Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 11

Bulls looking to knock the Raptors out of the play-in | DeMar never took O.G. shopping

Siakam deserves All-NBA love |

His growth as a playmaker is probably the most underrated aspect of his development this season, building off the last couple seasons of improvement but the results not showing as much for a team that has struggled shooting the ball all season. While his current assist average sits at 5.8, it jumps to 7.1 when adjusted for league-average shooting. The Raptors are currently 28th in the league in three-point shooting at 33.5 percent (league average 3-point shooting is about 36 percent), which makes not just Siakam’s playmaking difficult to stand out, but also ramps up the degree of difficulty when looking to operate in isolation as opponents feel free to show him as many bodies as possible and force the ball out of his hands.

“I come in every single day, do my job, and do it at a high level,” Siakam said. “I definitely think I deserve it (All-NBA) but, at the end of the day, there’s things I can’t control so I focus on my team and doing everything that I can to help us be successful.”

That All-NBA conversation is particularly interesting this year in light of the reports of a new CBA agreement that indicates a minimum of 65 games played will be required to obtain this elite status beginning next season. Will voters use that as even more of an earmark for how they make decisions this season or do they lean more on this being a last opportunity to make exceptions?

Siakam’s case for a forward spot on one of the All-NBA teams is certainly bolstered if games played is a bigger factor than usual, as Kevin Durant (47 games played), Kawhi Leonard (50 GP), and LeBron James (53 GP) would all be out of the mix. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum seem destined for deserved First Team spots, while Jimmy Butler, Julius Randle, Lauri Markkanen, and Jaylen Brown look like the stiffest competition.

Realistically, Randle looks like a guarantee for a forward spot after bouncing back with a tremendous individual season as the Knicks flirt with 50 wins. Jimmy Butler has averaged 22.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.8 steals on a career-best true shooting percentage of 64.3. The Heat also have more wins than the Raptors. That leaves Brown, who has spent the majority of the season in a secondary role to Tatum on a Celtics team locked into the 2-seed, and Markkanen – who has also been outstanding but plays for a team that, despite exceeding expectations entering the season, will not make the Play-In tournament.

An X-Factor will be if Brown – averaging 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists – sneaks in as a guard, where if the same 65-game logic were to be applied this season, both Steph Curry (54 GP) and Damian Lillard (58 GP) would miss out and thereby open up room to work with there.

This looks like a battle between Markkanen and Siakam for the final forward spot, one player who announced himself on the NBA stage as a great scorer with 25.6 points and 8.6 rebounds and shooting 50 percent from the field as well as 39 percent from deep, while the other has impressively added to a more established resume with 24.2 points on 48 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds as well as 5.8 assists, and despite his Raptors falling short of expectations, the team still has more wins than the Jazz. Siakam has also played almost 350 minutes more than Markkanen, which based on the latter’s per game average would be about 10 games worth.

Voting this year will be less clear cut than years to come when we know there will be a minimum games played stipulation, and that makes it harder to know what to expect with Siakam’s standing for All-NBA. As he said, though, all he can do is control what he can control, and the evidence this season shows that he has certainly done that.

Siakam is steadily normalizing his greatness, and that’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Raptors’ O.G. Anunoby steps into spotlight against DeMar DeRozan in Play-In – The Athletic

Part of what makes DeRozan’s series of fakes and tricks so lethal is his shot making ability. On most players in the league, a defender would be content to get a hand up to contest a jumper. DeRozan, though, shot 53.2 percent on middle-of-the-floor midrange jumpers this year. On the left wing, he shoots 51.9 percent. Aside from Kevin Durant, very few players can sniff that efficiency.

That is why suppressing shots is more important than anything else, and why the physicality that the referees will allow away from the ball will be one of the most notable X-factors of the game.

“I think that’s the best way to guard a player like that is just try to make it hard on him, make every catch tough, make every attempt tough — nothing easy,” said Fred VanVleet, who spent the most time on DeRozan’s co-star, Zach Lavine, in the two games he played against the Raptors this year. “You can’t really give him any clean looks. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but having O.G. helps.”

“I think that the level of the contest and the level of where he starts from, number of catches … I think O.G. does a pretty good job of zeroing in on that stuff,” Nurse added.

In other words, we have come a pretty far way from where we were at in February. At the trade deadline, Anunoby seemed like the most likely Raptor to be moved if the team was going to re-adopt the “Play-In-for-what strategy.” Precious Achiuwa filled in for Anunoby reasonably well when Anunoby suffered a wrist sprain, an injury that accounted for nine of the 15 games Anunoby missed this season. Given Anunoby’s easy fit in several different systems as well as leaguewide competitiveness being at an all-time high, Anunoby was a reasonable guest to get traded before Feb. 9.

It didn’t happen, and Anunoby was probably the best Raptor from that point on. Not only did he guard up and down the positional spectrum, he also put together a 51.9/42.4/90.9 shooting line from the field, 3-point range and the free-throw line. Without him, the Raptors certainly would not have been hosting the 9-10 Play-In game. They might have fallen out of the tournament altogether.

Now, at the height of his defensive powers, he gets a one-on-one matchup with all eyes directed at one game. Of course, Anunoby won’t be on an island. The Raptors are always a very aggressive team in providing help, and it is likely that they will help liberally off of Alex Caruso, who attempted just 2.3 3-pointers per game this year, and Patrick Beverley, who shot 33.5 percent. That will likely leave one of either Pascal Siakam or Scottie Barnes to impact DeRozan’s (and LaVine’s, for that matter) vision.

That help, in general, will come into play only after DeRozan gets the ball. Until then, it will be on Anunoby to navigate the screens and fakes DeRozan uses to get open. Siakam and Barnes get more attention because of their offensive skill sets, but this is Anunoby’s opportunity to show how impactful he can be to a large audience.

DeMar DeRozan has chance to end this Raptors era five years after pivotal trade – Sportsnet

DeRozan is a more sophisticated playmaker now than he ever was, but it would be foolish to expect he’s going to let his old team game plan him out of making an impact.

“[He’ll] probably be more aggressive,” said Anunoby. “He’ll definitely be more aggressive on Wednesday. Just us in the game plan, [we’re] trying to limit his touches and force him out as much as possible, try to make it as difficult as possible.”

Few are more suited for the job than Anunoby. The combination of size (six-foot-seven, 240 pounds), strength, quickness, and length that he brings to his defensive assignments is a problem for almost anyone he covers. It’s why he’s got a strong case to be named to one of the NBA’s all-defence teams this season for the first time. Not only does he have great instincts that enabled him to rank first in the NBA in steals this season and second in deflections, but he can also more than hold his own in the kind of isolation situations DeRozan usually thrives in.

No longer is Anunoby the young rookie looking up to the all-star veteran. The 25-year-old has established himself as a force in his own right.

“When I came in I was definitely over-aggressive, biting on his head fakes and stuff and just little tricks he had,” said Anunoby. “Definitely learned from him.”

Over the years Anunoby has taken those lessons and applied them, becoming one of the best wing defenders in the game and putting together a signature season, defensively.

“I think he just took it more personal, and he went for it,” said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, who has played alongside Anunoby for his entire career. “So hopefully he gets defensive player year, all-defence. He’s definitely well deserving of it. And he’s put on a lot of great performances for us, anchoring our defence and guarding the team’s best player, so he’s more than deserving for sure.”

The Bulls present more problems than DeRozan alone. After a slow start following off-season knee surgery, his running mate Zach Lavine began to find his form before Christmas and averaged 26 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists with a True Shooting percentage of 62.9 (league average is 58.1). As well the Bulls emerged as the NBA’s best defensive team since the all-star break, aided by the addition of noted defensive pest Patrick Beverly in the buyout market.

In that sense the two teams have a lot in common. Each is heavily invested in the present and made decisions at the trade deadline to commit themselves to seeing this season through, rather than veering into tank mode. They each finished the season relatively strongly and believe they can make a bigger impact than their seeding position would show.

But only one team will advance on Wednesday, which is why Anunoby — and the full force of the Raptors defence — will be focused on slowing DeRozan down.

It might not work. DeRozan has all the motivation in the world to stick it to his old team.

And if the well-loved former Raptor comes into the building he called home with more pride than almost any Raptor before him and deals Toronto the final indignity in a season with more than its share five years after the trade that broke his heart, who could even be mad?

NBA Play-in Tournament Preview: Toronto Raptors host Chicago Bulls in 9-10 showdown – Raptors HQ

The Details
The ninth-seeded Toronto Raptors will host the 10th-seeded Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, April 12 at 7:00 p.m.

The winner will play the winner of the 7-8 game, where the Atlanta Hawks visiting the Miami Heat, on April 11 at 7:30 p.m.

The Numbers
The Raptors won the season series against the Bulls 2-1, with the most recent, a 104-98 Raptors win, coming on February 28. Cumulatively, the Raptors outscored the Bulls 314-313 in the three games.

Neither team is a great three-point shooting team: the Bulls took 30 per game vs. the Raptors, hitting 36%; the Raptors took 36, hitting 32%.

On the boards, both teams are also pretty weak, though the winning team in each of the three games won the battle on the boards (both cumulatively and in defensive rebound rate).

If the Raptors have any advantage, it is in the possession game. The Raps forced the Bulls into 57 total turnovers in the three games, while only committing 32 themselves. That in turn led to the Raptors being +43 in shot attempts over the three games, an the Raptors averaged 22.3 points off turnovers (compared to 15.7 for the Bulls).

If the Bulls have any advantage, it’s that they are, perhaps surprisingly, a better defensive team than the Raptors (5th in defensive rating, compared to 13th for the Raps). How can a team employing DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic be better than a Nick Nurse-led Raptors squad? Well, a healthy Alex Caruso and a third of the season with Patrick Beverley, combined with the Raptors’ as-yet-unexplained decline on defense (perhaps exhausted after four years of the Nick Nurse scramble methodology) has flipped this script.

Overall net rating is also about even — the Raptors finished 12th in the league, the Bulls, 13th. All these numbers, plus the fact that the teams finished 9th and 10th and were separated by only one win, should tell you that they’re pretty even, if mediocre, and this game is anyone’s for the taking.

Lewenberg: O.G. Anunoby holds key to beating DeMar DeRozan’s Bulls, extending Raptors’ season | TSN

The Bulls present multiple challenges from a matchup standpoint. DeRozan’s co-star, Zach LaVine, has been on a tear since January. Nikola Vucevic is always a difficult cover in that he can score around the basket or step out and burn you from the perimeter. And thanks in large part to Alex Caruso and Patrick Beverley, who have given them some toughness in the backcourt, they’ve been the league’s best defensive team dating back to the all-star break.

Still, the Raptors know how dangerous DeRozan can be as both a scorer and a playmaker. While it’s easier said than done, forcing the ball out of his hands will be a top priority, and Anunoby is at the centre of that game plan.

In the three-game season series, Toronto held DeRozan to 14.0 points – fewer than he scored against any other team this year and 10 points less than his average. Most importantly, though, he attempted just 8.7 shots per contest, half of what he took against everybody else. They were also able to limit his free throws; he got to the line 5.7 times, down from his average of 7.1.

“That’s Nick Nurse,” said DeRozan, who’s in his second season with the Bulls after spending three in San Antonio and his first nine with the Raptors. “I know how to deal with it. But playing against Nick and playing against those guys, they try to do everything in their power to make sure I don’t beat them.”

In the past, Nurse and the Raptors have sent a second defender to trap DeRozan on the catch. That may be tougher to pull off successfully with LaVine – who missed the first meeting – playing so well. Fortunately, they should be well equipped to handle at least one of Chicago’s dynamic wings in single coverage, if it comes to that.
According to matchup data, Anunoby guarded DeRozan on 118.3 possessions this season – more than all but one opponent (Donovan Mitchell) – and held him to 14 points and just five field goal attempts, while forcing six turnovers. While he may not have to “empty the clip” – a phrase that Kyle Lowry coined after DeRozan attempted 32 shots in Game 7 of Toronto’s first-round series against Indiana during the 2016 Conference Finals run – Anunoby expects the 14-year vet to be more aggressive in looking for his jumper on Wednesday, given what’s at stake.

“It’s definitely difficult because he’ll pump fake three or four times in the same [play],” Anunoby said. “He’s good at getting fouls, so [you] just try to force him to the most difficult spot possible. If he makes them, that’s what he does. [You can’t be] mad about that. You go on to the next play.”

The 25-year-old has established himself as one of the league’s premier lockdown defenders, and that will likely come with his first NBA All-Defensive Team selection later this spring. He’s made a strong case for himself, routinely guarding the opposing team’s best offensive player, regardless of position. The list of Anunoby’s most-guarded players this season is made up of all-stars, ranging from guards like DeRozan and Mitchell to wings like Kevin Durant, Jaylen Brown and Kawhi Leonard, and even big men like the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.

Anunoby also became the first Raptors player to ever lead the NBA in steals with 128 in 67 games, an impressive feat, especially considering it rarely feels like he’s in foul trouble or gambling on plays. His ability to read passing lanes or, in some cases, just tear the ball away from an opposing player is a credit to his defensive instincts and discipline on that end of the floor. Spending time with DeRozan, as well as Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet – all of them crafty scorers – aided in his development.

O.G. Anunoby is Raptors’ key to slowing down Bulls’ offence | The Star

It’s going to take all the discipline Anunoby has, it’s going to take some help from teammates and it’s going to take some inventive schemes from coach Nick Nurse and his staff, but there is no alternative. If the Raptors don’t harness DeRozan and Zach LaVine, Chicago’s two most explosive scorers, a disappointing season will end with the second non-playoff spring in three years and surely usher in substantial change to a franchise not used to having a season end so early.

And that’s where Anunoby comes in. He is one of the NBA’s premier defenders, the league leader in steals per game this season (1.9), a contender for the league’s defensive player of the year award and a near certainty to be named to one of the NBA’s all-defensive teams.

Anunoby won’t be solely responsible for DeRozan but he is going to be the primary defender, as he always is against the opponent’s best player. It has worked well for the Raptors this season: In three games against his former team, DeRozan has taken only 26 shots in total, averaging about 14 points a game (compared to 24.5 points for the season). If Anunoby and the Raptors can match that effort Wednesday, it will go a long way to propelling them to another do-or-die game Friday with the playoffs on the line.

“DeMar can really score, as we know, and he can score guarded,” Nurse said Monday. “The level of the (shot) contest and the level of where he starts (possessions) from, (the) number of catches … I think O.G. does a pretty good job of zeroing in on that stuff.

“Can we make it tough over the course of the game and try to get some misses here and there and make sure we limit those misses to one-shot opportunities and all those things? That’s the big thing O.G. does.”

The Bulls have other offensive weapons, of course. LaVine is just as capable of dropping 30 points as DeRozan.

“The way (LaVine) shoots and his athleticism getting downhill and getting to the paint, (you) just try to make it tough on him, make it uncomfortable and show him multiple bodies, show different defenders and just (have) the help ready to go,” Raptors veteran Fred VanVleet said. “You don’t really guard with just one person. It takes five-man groups and (we’ll) see what we come up with here in the next couple of days.

“But definitely, I think limiting touches and attempts is your best way to start on those guys.”

Raptors Discuss Slowing Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan & O.G. Anunoby – Sports Illustrated

Maybe it’s the familiarity Anunoby has with DeRozan, the tendencies he hinted at but wouldn’t talk about Monday afternoon as the Toronto Raptors held their first practice ahead of Wednesday’s play-in game against the Chicago Bulls. For years, Anunoby studied DeRozan, learning the tricks of the trade while developing alongside his former teammate.

They were, and still are, great friends, as Anunoby put it Monday. They message from time to time and chatted last week, Anunoby said. But that friendship is going to have to be put on hold, at least for a few days.

Step 1 to beating the Bulls on Wednesday starts with slowing DeRozan. Toronto has done a pretty good job of it this year, holding the 33-year-old forward to just 26 shot attempts over three games, by far the lowest of any team DeRozan’s faced this season.

That starts with Anunoby denying DeRozan the ball, a task easier said than done for most defensive players. The goal is to force DeRozan to catch the ball as far from the rim as possible, Anunoby said.

“Making him work for everything, make everything as difficult as possible,” said Anunoby. “It’s definitely difficult against a player like him. He’s a great player with a bunch of different tricks and skills.”

Anunoby has been pretty good at avoiding DeRozan’s veteran tricks. He’s surrendered just 14 points across 118.3 partial possessions of defense against DeRozan, per NBA Stats. Those stats have come on 3-for-5 shooting with six assists and six turnovers in just over 23 minutes of defense.

“It’s definitely difficult because he’ll pump fake three or four times in the same instance,” Anunoby added. “Just being disciplined and keeping your hands up, keeping your hands out.”

Toronto is expecting to see more of that Wednesday night. DeRozan has been more of a playmaker against the Raptors this season, opting to turn Toronto’s hyper-aggressive defense into points for his teammates. This time, though, there’s an expectation that DeRozan will call his own number a little more, Anunoby said.

With all the attention paid to DeRozan, Toronto has found some trouble slowing Chicago’s other offensive contributors, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević. LaVine dropped 30 points on the Raptors back in November while Vučević had 23 on 9-for-14 shooting in late February.

“Both of those guys can really score, they’re both really explosive,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of DeRozan and LaVine. “I think that we would always start out with trying to find the right matchups, who can maybe limit some touches one-on-one.”

Defending DeRozan always a concern when you play the Bulls | Toronto Sun

Anunoby, likely headed for his first All-NBA defensive team honour next month, has been the first line of defence but, as with most Nurse defences, there are levels to the scheme and quite often DeRozan is seeing multiple Raptors all working diligently to make him give up the ball.

The Bulls are convinced they faced three different defences in the three games they played Toronto though Anunoby, who was central to just about every roadblock thrown in DeRozan’s way, does not support that belief.

Quite possibly it was a similar defence every time with slight wrinkles thrown in to keep the high-end basketball IQ DeRozan just a little off balance.

Anunoby fully expects a more aggressive DeRozan in Wednesday’s matchup with the game a win-or-go-home proposition as the two teams battle it out for a chance to take on the loser of the 7-8 game with an eighth-place playoff berth on the line.

“He’ll definitely be more aggressive on Wednesday,” Anunoby said of DeRozan. “Just us in the game plan, trying to limit his touches and force him out as much as possible, try to make it as difficult as possible.”

Both players know the other extremely well. DeRozan was one of Anunoby’s vets when he first entered the league and the two spent plenty of time going at each other in practice.

“He’s a very patient player,” Anunoby says of DeRozan. “When I came in (to the league) I was definitely over-aggressive, biting on his head fakes and stuff and just little tricks he had. I definitely learned from him.”

That said DeRozan has plenty of experience going up against Anunoby too and knows his defensive tendencies and likes. There aren’t going to be any secrets when it comes to this particular matchup.

Anunoby will spend the game trying to limit the number of times DeRozan actually has possession of the ball, while DeRozan will either defeat the double teams on his own or take advantage of the open man created by all the attention he is getting.

Either way that matchup is going to be a major factor in the outcome of the game.

From a Raptors perspective, the only problem with throwing multiple bodies at DeRozan is it leaves you fewer to defend Zach LaVine, the other half of the Bulls two-headed scoring machine.

Over the past month while DeRozan has been averaging 22.9 points a night, 25-year-old guard LaVine has been going at a 25.3-points-per-night pace.

He’s not a guy you want to defend one-on-one either.

5 thoughts on “Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 11”

Leave a Comment