The following is a conversation between myself and the wonderful Steph Noh.
Samson Folk: So Steph, I think we mostly got what we were looking for last night with shot-making from the players of note and stout defense from both sides. The Raptors, of course, did so without their defensive anchor in Jakob Poeltl, choosing to play long and active with their glut of forwards. What did you make of the defense last night?
Steph Noh: Christian Koloko was also out with a respiratory illness, which left the Raptors extremely thin at center. Darko tried Chris Boucher to start, and I thought he was very ineffective. He went with Thad Young, who also didn’t do much. The most intriguing thing to me was using Scottie Barnes as a small ball 5, where I thought Scottie held up wonderfully. Andre Drummond isn’t going to test him much — the few times Drummond did, Scottie completely shut him down. Scottie was a pest in pick-and-roll defense, swatting away roll passes to Nikola Vucevic. He single-handedly shut down the Bulls’ offense to close the first half, guarding 1 through 5. Darko seems to be doing a better job of not making him guard out on the perimeter. I recently ranked Scottie as the no. 75 defender in the league, and that is going to be too low if he keeps on playing like this.
The other nice thing that I noticed from the Raps’ defense is that Schroder is going to give teams trouble when Darko has him apply pressure in the backcourt. Gary Payton once told me that if he can get guards to turn three times in the backcourt, then he knows that he has them. Schroder got Coby White to turn four times last night, picking his pocket on the fourth turn in the backcourt. Schroder also single-handedly blew up an ATO that the Bulls were trying to run by harassing Ayo Dosunmu in the backcourt and almost getting Nikola Vucevic to travel. He killed so much clock that the Bulls had to settle for an off-balance long 2 to beat the clock. I’d like to ask you, what do you think of Scottie as a small ball 5? I think that it’s smart to have in their bag when playing non-threatening bigs like Drummond.
Folk: Oh man, I love Scottie at the 5 in a pinch. His very first standout game as a defender in his career was as the 5, playing drop against the Knicks his rookie season. He doesn’t have the quickness to flip hips, slide, and stick guys on the perimeter, but he’s really quick planting and covering the paint with length. I think his best role as a defender going forward is probably as a frontcourt roamer who can play 3-4 minutes of the 5 depending on matchups. Regarding the Raptors half court offense: by the numbers it was horrible (71.4 p100). What did you make of the Raptors early offense and attempts to navigate their lack of shooting?
Noh: You could hear Darko on the broadcast yelling at them to bring it up quickly. There were some good moments, such as Pascal dunking it off a made Bulls basket. When they did get into their halfcourt offense, the Bulls were absolutely not respecting their shooting. The Raps were 9-of-31 from deep, which doesn’t begin to tell the story. Many of those looks were wide open. Credit the Raptors for making the right passes and being willing to take those shots, but the shooting talent just isn’t there.
What also struck me about the team’s halfcourt offense was that they are trying to incorporate more passing with guys who aren’t necessarily great passers. There were some bad turnovers from players like Boucher trying to initiate the offense. Some of the Raptors’ best stuff came from giving it to Pascal and letting him cook. Obviously we saw last year that such a strategy has issues. A lot of this will be alleviated once they get Poeltl back, who is a plus passer and will work better in those sets.
I thought Schroder was pretty good driving the ball. He was able to turn the corner a few times to get to the rim and blew by Zach LaVine with his crafty change of pace. But how worried are you about Malachi Flynn and the PG depth behind Dennis? Flynn had a bad game, struggling to create separation on his drives and missing all seven of his shots.
Folk: It’s been really interesting to have so much of the conversation from Darko about the offense revolve around Poeltl, and even having Precious Achiuwa mentioned as a hub. Then in the games we see legitimate follow through with heaps of Poeltl touches, and guys like Boucher and Thad trying to emulate that with him missing. Still early days, and the movement around those hubs is more important at this time, so we’ll see.
Personally, I’d like to see Jeff Dowtin elevated above Malachi in the rotation, but there’s fiscal and political reasons for why that doesn’t happen, and no doubt some basketball reasons for those in the Raptors org who think Flynn might breakthrough the threshold a bit. I think the Raptors guard depth is a problem for the 3rd season in a row — whether or not it’s Flynn — and similar to the past 2 seasons, a lot of the Raptors inbetweener lineups are going to rely on being able to win minutes without a point guard on the floor. In 2021-22, it went quite well. In 2022-23? Not so much.
I’m kind of curious where you stand on Patrick Williams. He’s kind of been the Bulls great hope on the wing for some time now, and while I see the appeal, I think they’ve been hitting limiting returns for a little bit now.
Noh: Patrick is certainly not where you’d like him to be at this point in his career. The flashes are there — he scored 20 points on 14 shots in his previous preseason game. But he disappeared against the Raptors. I think that the physical tools are there, but he doesn’t read the game yet at a reactive level. Much of his stuff is still predetermined. That can get better with experience, so it’s still a wait-and-see approach for me. Given that you’ve seen a few hundred long athletic wing prospects in the past few years, what do you think of Pat?
Folk: I think there’s some parallels between Anunoby and Williams as far as possessing a lot of that overwhelming physicality and trying to weave finesse into their game deftly – Anunoby has actually been a bit of a forgotten man in the preseason offense, for what it’s worth. They both really impress in the big spaces of the court and struggle in the tighter areas. I imagine you and I think similarly in that I think a lot of Williams’ future impact will come on the defensive end — I saw you ranked him as the 89th best defender in the league — and having a strong defensive year this year will allow for him to stay on the floor for a few more transitional lineups where the offensive stuff is moreso like: “We’ll take what we can get”, rather than the big gasp and anxiety of knowing the ball has been funneled to him and he’s taking shots stars should be taking. He has the tools to score in isolation, he shoots the 3 well — even if it’s not on the highest volume — and a lot of the other stuff is a work in progress. Basically, more minutes = more reads = better reactive play.
Noh: Good stuff! Any other questions or should we wrap it up?
Folk: That seems like a pretty good place to jump off. Anything you want to say to readers before we get out of here?
Noh: Think that’s everything! Thanks for the opportunity to chat!
Folk: Hopefully this one didn’t take you away from any birthday time hahah, thanks for always chopping it up, Steph.
Thanks to everyone for reading, we hope you enjoyed it. Just a reminder, Steph had a huge piece ranking the NBA’s defenders come out on Sporting News and you can click here to read it.
Have a blessed day.