Morning Coffee – Thu, Mar 2

The Raptors will never tank | Is Barton a floor or ceiling raiser? (or neither?)

How stuck is your favourite middling NBA Eastern Conference team? – The Athletic

Members of eight-man rotation who are 25 or younger

Atlanta: 5 (6.5)
New York: 5 (6.5)
Toronto: 4 (5)
Chicago: 3 (3.5)
Washington: 3 (3.5)
Brooklyn: 2 (1.5)
Miami: 2 (1.5)

Youth is huge. Young players are generally tied to team-friendly contracts. Additionally, young players are often desirable to other teams when talking about trades. There is the arbitrary nature of choosing 25 as the age when a player goes from young to mid-career, but a player’s prime is generally thought to fall between ages 26-30, with lots of variation among players.

I am somewhat amazed Mitchell Robinson is still 24. It feels like he has been around the league too long for that, but here we are. The Knicks have a great setup, with their two best players aged 26 and 28, and then seven of their next eight guys in terms of minutes played all 25 or under. The Hawks might have sold off some draft equity, but at least they have young players such as Trae Young, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Saddiq Bey and Onyeka Okongwu to build around.

Miami feels underrated here since Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro are their two young guys. I will look to rectify that down below, too.

Members of eight-man rotation who are 30 or older

Washington: 0 (6.5)
New York: 0 (6.5)
Atlanta: 1 (5)
Chicago: 2 (2.5)
Toronto: 2 (2.5)
Miami: 2 (2.5)
Brooklyn: 2 (2.5)

More than anything, this illustrates how few older players take up non-core spots on rosters. Of the nine players accounted for here, three of them are central to their teams’ plans: Butler, DeRozan and Vucevic. That leaves just six other players in total: Thaddeus Young, Chris Boucher, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kyle Lowry, Joe Harris and Seth Curry.

As with the category above, there are reasons to take this with a grain of salt. Beal turns 30 during the summer, while Washington’s Delon Wright falls just outside of his team’s top-eight in minutes played. (Also: Wright is turning 31 in April. Whoa!)

Anyway, age is only looked on as a negative here because it is unlikely those players are going to get dramatically better at this point of their careers, although Damian Lillard says hello. Based on the dearth of players in this group, you can understand why the players’ association is advocating for the importance of veterans in collective bargaining, especially with the one-and-done rule looking to be on the way out.

Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat. (Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)
Players 25 or younger with three or more win shares this year

Atlanta: 3 (6.5)
New York: 3 (6.5)
Toronto: 2 (5)
Washington: 1 (3)
Miami: 1 (3)
Brooklyn: 1 (3)
Chicago: 0 (1)

This is where I try to underscore the value of young players. Obtaining productive players on rookie contracts is the most important team-building priority for the majority of the league, so we might as well essentially count those players twice.

Why three win shares? Well, heading into Wednesday’s play, 120 players in the league had recorded at least three win shares, or about one of every four players who logs regular minutes. Amazingly, Herro (2.7) is not one of them. Neither is O.G. Anunoby (2.6). Unquestionably, those are still very desirable players to have on your roster.

The under-25 guy with the most win shares this season on one of these seven teams? Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton, who is 14th in the league with 6.8 win shares. Also cracking the top-100, in descending order: Adebayo, Okongwu, Young, Robinson, Daniel Gafford, Immanuel Quickley, Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., and Isaiah Hartenstein.

‘It’s that time of year’: Raptors set for series vs. Wizards as playoff push intensifies – Sportsnet

The Raptors could have a small advantage with their addition of Will Barton on Tuesday. The 11-year veteran was waived by the Wizards after spending the first part of the season with them after they acquired him by trade from Denver, where he had played for eight seasons. If there are state secrets, he says he’s willing to share.

Barton has had a productive career and even if his fit with the Wizards didn’t prove it, his track record with the Nuggets did — he averaged nearly 15 points, five rebounds and four assists while shooting 38 per cent from three in 71 starts last season.

That he chose to sign with the Raptors as a free agent is telling. Typically veterans in his position are looking to do one of a couple of things: find a ride with a team that has championship potential or join a team where there is a chance to play and make a difference.

For Barton coming to the Raptors was a little column A and a little column B.

“(I was looking for) some playing time to keep proving myself,” said Barton. “But also just to impact winning. I know we’re trying to make a push to get into the playoffs, so it’s just trying to find a balance and a mixture for both.”

And does he look at this new team as one that could be in the playoffs come April?

“Definitely a team that is way better than their record,” said Barton to reporters at practice in Toronto on Wednesday. “Everybody knows that around the league. Very talented, well coached, well-run organization. So hopefully we can just keep getting wins, get our record better and get to the playoffs.”

Taken at face value, Barton’s endorsement at least confirms what the Raptors have believed about themselves.

They may have a point. They are 14-9 since Jan. 6 when they were seven games under .500. It’s hardly the stuff legends are made of but played out of a full 82 and Toronto would be in full command of a playoff spot and jockeying for home-court advantage in the first round.

That’s not going to happen, but the Raptors are at least in position to convince themselves that that their instincts were right and — particularly with their return to full health and the addition of Jakob Poeltl as the missing piece at centre — they can approach the final push with some enthusiasm, optimism, and determination.

They were hallmarks of Raptors teams for most of the past decade and though they were missing at times this year, they’ve become more evident now.

Better late than never.

Barton brings leadership, depth as Raptors make playoff push | TSN

Nurse has spent months searching for another reliable guard to soak up minutes in the rotation. He’s tried a bunch of different guys in the spot – Dalano Banton, Malachi Flynn and, most recently, two-way player Jeff Dowtin Jr. – but no one has run away with the opportunity.

The chance to play meaningful minutes on a competitive team and re-establish his value in the market was another big reason why Barton chose Toronto over a few other interested teams.

“I just felt like it was a good opportunity,” Barton said. “This is a good team. I feel like I can come in, bring some leadership, some versatility, some bench playmaking and scoring, and a lot of energy.”

After playing a key role on some really good Denver Nuggets teams over the years, Barton has had a down season. In 40 games with the Wizards, he averaged 7.7 points on 39 per cent shooting in just under 20 minutes per contest. With Washington skewing younger in its rotation, he only appeared in five of 18 games before hitting waivers.

Still, he’s just one season removed from averaging 14.7 points and 32 minutes while starting 71 games for the Nuggets in 2021-22. The 11-year vet is out to prove that he remains an impact player in this league.

For the Raptors, this is a smart, low-risk addition. Hernangomez had fallen out of Nurse’s rotation plans, and given the makeup of the roster, Barton is a player who makes more sense positionally and in terms of skill set.

First and foremost, he should help address one of their most glaring areas of need: shooting. Over his last seven seasons, Barton has hit 37 per cent of his three-point attempts.

He also brings experience. He’s started. He’s come off the bench. He’s played in 29 postseason games. Both on and off the court, his presence could be a factor for a relatively young Raptors team looking to make a playoff push.

“When we saw that Will was available, doing our homework, the one thing that everybody said was he’s a great pro,” Nurse said. “He’s been in the league so long, I assume that he’ll be a good locker room leader and good guy, good example for the some of the younger players.”

As the team’s self-proclaimed old head, Thaddeus Young knows how important Barton can be. The 16-year vet was in a similar position when the Raptors brought him in around this time last season. Many of the team’s younger players, including Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa, would often pick his brain and raved about his leadership down the stretch and into the playoffs.

“He’s definitely going to help us,” said Young, who’s known Barton for more than a decade given their mutual ties to Memphis, where the former grew up and the latter went to college. “He’s a tremendous player that can go out there and score, facilitate and make plays. Then he has that veteran savvy that we need.”

“We’ll take as many of those guys as we can get,” Fred VanVleet said after Toronto’s 104-98 win over Chicago. “He’s a hooper. He’s got some playoff experience and he’s battle tested. He has done it at a high level and played on some really good teams. So, whether it’s locker room experience to help with some of the other guys or just another guy that we can count on any given night, I think that’s a luxury to have coming off the bench.”

It’s usually best to temper your expectations when it comes to the buyout market. Those guys are generally made available for a reason. More often than not, they’re older players nearing the end of big contracts who fell out of favour with younger or rebuilding teams and didn’t draw interest at the trade deadline, so they’re cut loose. They rarely move the needle in a significant way, but in the right situation they can come in and make a subtle impact.

Raptors looking at Will Barton to help with bench scoring | The Star

So the call from Raptors management couldn’t be turned down, he said.

“Yeah, there were some other teams that I was considering,” the 32-year-old Barton said Wednesday after getting his first workout in with his new team, his fourth NBA squad in 11 seasons.

“I just felt like it was a good opportunity. This is a good team. I feel like I can come in, bring some leadership, some versatility, some bench playmaking and scoring and a lot of energy.”

There certainly is a role for the six-foot-five Barton to fill on a Raptors team in the throes of a playoff race. He’s not a star but he’s been around and should understand the key need for role players on teams striving for something.

There will be minutes available off the bench — Barton played four against Chicago in a “little bit of a roll of the dice,” Nurse said — and second unit scoring has been an issue with Toronto all season.

Barton, who was waived by Washington last month after a blah season where he played fewer than 20 minutes a game and averaged less than six points a game, sees Toronto as a chance to restake a spot in the NBA. He’ll be a free agent in the summer and making a contribution to a team making a post-season charge may open some eyes.

“Some playing time to keep proving myself but also just to impact winning,” he said of the benefits of coming to Toronto. “I know we’re trying to make a push to get into the playoffs, so it’s just trying to find a balance and a mixture for both.

“Any time you step on an NBA court it’s an audition for the rest of the league.”

But the Raptors need him to help now.

“We’ll take as many of those guys as we can get,” veteran Fred VanVleet said of his new teammate. “He’s just a good player, he’s a bucket getter, he’s a hooper, he’s got some playoff experience and he’s battle tested.

“He has done it at a high level and played on some really good teams so whether it’s locker room or just experience to help with some of the other guys or just another guy that we can count on any given night to get you 20 or 30, I think that’s a luxury to have coming off the bench.”

Will Barton on Why He Joined the Raptors & Helping Toronto – Sports Illustrated

Barton’s first showing Tuesday night, four minutes against the Chicago Bulls, was impressive Raptors coach Nick Nurse said post-game. It wasn’t much, but the ball moved nicely, Nurse said, especially if you consider Barton had only been in Toronto for a few hours.

Moving forward, the 6-foot-5, 181-pound guard said he just wants to be himself in Toronto and the Raptors expect to be accommodating. He’s a veteran leader who played for some very successful Nuggets teams over the year and he should provide a little more catch-and-shoot ability for a team largely bereft of floor-spacing. He’s been a 35.5% three-point shooter for his career and has knocked down catch-and-shoot thees at a 44.9% clip this season.

The goal, Barton said, is to get playing time, keep proving himself to the league, and help impact winning for the Raptors as the playoffs near.

“I just wanted to add any depth I could to this team,” Barton added. “Definitely a team that is way better than their record. Everybody knows that around the league. Very talented, well-coached, well-run organization. So hopefully we can just keep getting wins, get our record better, and get to the playoffs.”

It’s going to take Barton a few days to get acclimated in Toronto’s system, especially on the offensive end as he tries to navigate the Raptors’ strange position-less attack. In any given lineup there’s a chance Barton is playing anything from the point guard spot to the small forward spot and that can take some time to figure out, said fellow veteran Thad Young.

It should help to have some familiar opponents on the horizon as Toronto opens a two-game set against Washington, Barton’s former team, on Thursday, before the Raptors play two of their next six games against the Nuggets.

There’s room on the Raptor train as they make a push back torelevance | Toronto Sun

Prior to his arrival the team defensive rating was 113.6 or 20th in the league.

So how has the arrival of one man changed things so drastically?

For starters, he fills the gaping void that was absence of any real big man on the team to protect the rim. With all due respect to Christian Koloko, the rookie, very few first-year players are ready to assume that role and Koloko was not an exception at this very early stage of his development.

Poeltl is just one man filling one role, but there is a trickle-down effect to his arrival as well.

Him taking over that role of primary rim protector and deterrent to would-be drivers means Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam and even O.G. Anunoby don’t have to do that anymore.

The trickle down comes in when you take those players and put them back in roles where they are defending like-sized opponents.

But even more than that, having that knowledge that Poeltl is back there as a bit of a safety valve allows that group to be more aggressive, pursuing their attackers. Poeltl’s arrival made them better at the fives spot, but also at the four and the three, because the guys who should have been guarding those positions are back there now where they always should have been.

Protect the rim better and your paint protection gets better. Protect the paint better and by extension your perimeter defence should be better too.

“I think getting a few of those (straight rim runs for easy buckets) erased has given these guys a little bit more confidence,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “I just think that good players lift up others and I think knowing we’ve got a good defensive centre and a guy that’s protecting the rim and he communicates and he’s smart and all that stuff gets those other guys playing a little bit better.”

On the offensive end, Poeltl has also had an impact, although a three-game absence by Fred VanVleet has mitigated this.

Poeltl has improved the Raptors’ offensive rebounding and the number of second-chance points because of that, but it’s his passing and rolling skills, and not to be left out his screen setting that should move the needle substantially more once he and VanVleet share the court more.

Poeltl is a savvy player in the pick and roll who understands angles and leverage so that as a roller he’s money when teamed up with an astute point guard like VanVleet. It’s easy buckets when these two hook up in a season where scoring has looking anything but easy most of the time.

Without VanVleet for three of those six games though, the offence has faltered.

Since Poeltl’s arrival the team has gone from 11th in the league in offensive rating at 114.3 to 20th at 110.7. Normally that kind of slippage would be a major concern, but Nurse sees through that.

“I think the offence will come here shortly,” Nurse said after a poor shooting night in a win over Chicago on Tuesday. “I know we’re running out of time, but I think the motions and the moves and the things we’re doing in the spacing and the relocating all that stuff is at a pretty high level. The cutting is getting better, the passing is getting better and we’ve just got to do the most important part and put it in the hole.”

The offence was never really the worry anyway. The worry all along has been the defence and the defence, while not fully back to where it once was when teams struggled just to get a shot off before the shot clock against them, is once again an area on which this team can count.

Even the fatalists have to be able to see that.

There are 19 games to go, the Raptors are healthy and rolling and within four games of the sixth seed in the East which would avoid the play-in tournament.

That’s much easier to get behind than “let’s see how many games we can lose to improve our draft standing.”

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