Morning Coffee – Thu, Oct 19

Good vibes so far after exorcising last years demons (NN & FVV)

2023-24 Eastern Conference Betting Preview: Can Raptors get to 37 wins? – Sportsnet

he Take: I truly do not know what to make of this Raptors team. I could see them outperforming this 36.5 number easily if Scottie Barnes makes a leap and the addition of Darko Rajakovic provides a new coach bump. I could also see them trading Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby before the All-Star Break. I’m not confident in it, but I like the Toronto Raptors UNDER 36.5 wins. I don’t think they have enough shooting, and I suspect Nick Nurse was ringing every last drop of defensive efficiency out of this squad.

Rautins: Darko’s impact on this team has been pretty sizeable – Video – TSN

Bryan Hayes, Jamie McLennan and Jeff O’Neill are joined by TSN basketball analyst Leo Rautins to discuss the impact Darko Rajakovic will have in his first season as Raptors head coach and how much different Toronto will look this season.

Raptors assistant coach James Wade unfazed by jump to NBA – Toronto Star

The message the staff needs to convey comes directly from Rajakovic. No matter their backgrounds, experience or last jobs, implementing what the head coach wants is paramount.

“Our staff is well put together and we all have very diverse backgrounds and we see different things but the main thing is the main thing and that’s the coach’s vision,” Wade said. “I think everybody is trying to do their best and doing a good job of that. Darko is one of the best teachers you can find so everything is real clear and I think the guys are buying into it and the coaches are just trying to make that message as loud and teach as well as we can.”

Not much should be made of Wade’s experience in the women’s game having anything to do with how well he’ll connect with players in the men’s game.

It’s basketball. And people.

“At first I think I put pressure on myself,” he said. “I told myself it was different but as you get to meet these guys and coach these guys and talk to these guys, it’s not really different; the resources are different.

“One of other things is I’m throwing the ball up above the backboard and they’re catching it and dunking it (but) other than that, the personalities and the talent and the buy-in into the game and the love for the game is all the same.”

Wade said he was perfectly fine in his job when the Raptors opportunity arose in the middle of his WNBA season.

It was hard to leave — the Sky named an interim coach to finish the season before hiring Hall of Famer Teresa Weatherspoon away from her job as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Pelicans last week — but the unexpected opportunity was too good.

“It was never in my plans to be in the NBA, so I guess I’m a little different but, being here I really appreciate the opportunity. I know how important it is and I know how big it is,” he said.

“I’m a little, small fish in a big pond so I never really imagined me being in this type of situation … But when the opportunity came I was waiting on somebody close to me to tell me I couldn’t do it, and everybody was ‘holy crap, you gotta do it.’ ”

Player Preview: Gary Trent Jr committed, but will the Raptors? – Raptors HQ

The Minnesota-native was in and out of the starting lineup last season, which given that he still signed into his option and gave up unrestricted free agency suggests that if that remains the case, it won’t cause the relationship between player and team to deteriorate (which if you believe the rumor mills has happened plenty within the locker room in the past).

Nevertheless, the question will continue to float on if Trent Jr can play his way into Darko Rajanovoc’s starting five night in and night out, as well as if he should even start there. Trent Jr’s battle with newly-minted world champion Dennis Schroder is probably the closest in all the position battles but is also one that comes with the understanding that in a 6-month season there are bound to be some shifts.

What will define this starter/bench player balance for GTJ is simply the fact that he’s playing for a contract and, well, starters tend to get paid more than reserves. So will the money he may think he’s losing come into play and mess with head? Or can he find comfort in being the leader in what the Raptors can only hope will be the revival of the Bench Mob?

Regardless of how he gets onto the court or for how long, the Raptors will look to count on Trent Jr for points, and lots of them. Statistically, last season was a tick off of where his offensive performance can be, averaging 17.4 pts per game and 36.9% from beyond the arc, but a reinvigorated offensive approach should see his numbers pick back up. Despite his lineup inconsistency last season, Trent Jr still finished the season 33rd in made triples and is guaranteed to see an increase in on-ball touches given the departure of Fred Van Vleet.

Raptors' Pascal Siakam Ranked Among NBA's Best – Sports Illustrated

Siakam narrowly missed an All-NBA spot last season, finishing the year as the ninth-best forward in the NBA, according to All-NBA voters. He was helped by the fact that Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and others missed large swaths of the season, essentially disqualifying them from All-NBA contention.

This year, though, things are a little different. The NBA has done away with positions for All-NBA voting and added a games played minimum of 65 games to encourage the league’s stars to play as much as possible.

Entering this season, Siakam likely sits on the outside of the NBA’s top 15 players and a spot on an All-NBA roster. The Ringer ranked him as No. 25 in the league, a spot ahead of Zion Williamson, Jalen Brunson, Trae Young, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Lauri Markkanen, to name a few.

That said, Siakam has been reliable when it comes to games played for virtually his entire career. He’s played in at least 80% of Toronto’s games in five of the last six seasons and just narrowly missed the mark during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season. If that remains the case, a spot on an All-NBA team might be realistic.

It’s going to take more winning from Toronto for Siakam to get there this year. His box score stats were as good as almost anyone else in the All-NBA forward conversation, but it’s hard to earn a spot when you’re the No. 1 player on a 41-win team.

Rajakovic creates harmony on a Raptors team that had little a year ago | Toronto Sun

There was discontent from the coach’s room with upper management and vice-versa. There was discontent between the veterans and the young guys and, yes, there was discontent from the guys at the back end of the rotation who were either ignored or left behind by a head coach that was convinced the only way to win was by running his starters into the ground.

Masai Ujiri didn’t necessarily wipe the slate clean this off-season, but a new head coach has done wonders in terms of morale and buy-in.

We’re not saying everything is fixed by any means. Some of those same veterans and young guys remain and, whether those relationships are fixed, can be fixed or not, remains known only to the individuals.

Time will eventually spell it out for the rest of us. A fractured roster can’t hide forever.

But listening to the players themselves over these past few weeks suggests new head coach Darko Rajakovic has mended a lot of those fences already.

From the fresh start department, we provide Malachi Flynn as Exhibit 1.

A former first-round pick, Flynn’s minutes a year ago — he averaged 13 a game — were limited to garbage time or as an injury replacement. Beyond that, he was barely heard from all year.

His career was flat-lining until Rajakovic showed up and suddenly Flynn has some hope again.
He was asked earlier this week if he associated a new head coach with new opportunity for guys like himself.
“Of course, I think it’s just like a reset, you know what I mean,” he said. “When he first got the job, I didn’t know nothing about him, but it’s just a reset for everybody. And then, once I got to know him, he’s really detail-oriented, very organized and somebody I can get on the same page with. So, I think it’s been good.”

As for looking back, Flynn said he would not do that.
“It was what it was in the past year,” he said. “I don’t really want to dwell on that at all. It’s just a new year, new everything, so we feel like we’ve got a different spirit going. Not really thinking about those past years and looking forward to moving on.”