— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) November 14, 2023
I’m curious what household chore did O.G. Anunoby in. I assume something in the kitchen, but it could be anything.
— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) November 14, 2023
9. More passing, but more turnovers too
This is going to be a challenge for the Raptors all year. Last season the Raptors were content to hunt mismatches in the half-court and allow players to attack them 1-on-1. There was less passing – by design – and so fewer passing mistakes. Toronto ranked first in the NBA in turnovers, as in, not making them.
So far this season they are 20th in the league with nearly four more than they did a year ago. That impacts their transition defense and costs them chances to score in their own right. It’s likely a feature, not a bug.
As long as teams feel they can crowd the paint on the Raptors because of their lack of deep shooting threats, fitting passes into the spaces Rajakovic wants will be problematic. He’s convinced that better execution – screening, passing angles, player movement – will help trim down some of those mistakes. His goal is to be a top-10 turnover team. It will be an interesting measure to keep an eye on.
As Rajakovic spent part of Tuesday’s practice taking his team through an analytics audit to assess the team’s strengths and weaknesses while going .500 through 10 games, there was plenty to be positive about. Rajakovic said he was heartened by numbers that suggest the Raptors are getting plenty of touches in the paint, and that the team ranks second in the league in a stat known as “potential assists,” while ranking fifth in actual assists per game. All of it suggests the new emphasis on ball movement is having a positive impact.
Still, the coach acknowledged there remain rough edges in need of polish. The Raptors’ substandard marksmanship — they are 25th in the league in true shooting percentage — remains a limiting factor that, if it was improved, could turn more of those potential assists into actual ones. And then there’s the most startling downside to Rajakovic’s ball-movement-heavy offence so far: the proliferation of giveaways.
Last season, a team made up of not dissimilar personnel set the league standard in taking care of the ball. No franchise gave up fewer turnovers than the Raptors, who led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Of course, it’s simple enough not to throw away the ball when you prefer not to throw it to anyone. And given how a good chunk of last season’s half-court offence was based on dribble-heavy isolation play, there was more than one way to look at Toronto’s sure-handedness.
The Raptors are eighth-worst in turnover percentage this season. Siakam committed six turnovers Monday, one off his career high, which helped explain why a heroic performance was required to beat the dreadful Wizards.
The club can hope for better in Wednesday’s home game against the Milwaukee Bucks, who have lost two of their past three. Toronto’s OG Anunoby (lacerated hand) and Gary Trent Jr. (plantar fasciitis), both of whom missed Monday’s game, are listed as day to day. The return of Anunoby, who was seen on the practice court Tuesday with his right hand heavily taped while using only his left hand in various drills, doesn’t appear imminent.
No matter who is in the lineup, Rajakovic surely hopes they cut down on their turnover rate. Toronto is giving it away on 15 per cent of possessions this season, compared with less than 12 per cent last year.
“We still turn the ball over way too much. We’ve got to do a better job with that,” Rajakovic said. “I don’t expect us to be No. 1 in not turning the ball over at all. But definitely I would like us to be (in the) top 10 teams of not turning the ball over.”
After a promising rookie year in the COVID season, played entirely south of the border with Toronto setting up shop in Tampa, Fla., Flynn’s following two seasons were disappointments.
He would flash minutes of the player he knew he could be only to be relegated to the bench by then head coach Nick Nurse.
The sporadic nature of the minutes and the reliance on making shots to keep him on the floor played mind games with the now 25-year-old guard and he admits he did not handle it well.
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Flynn began obsessing that every opportunity had to be perfect. A missed shot spelled the end of that strive for perfection. Any freedom or joy in his game would vanish and with it any confidence he had of working out of a shooting slump.
It’s the first thing Rajakovic noticed when he was doing his due diligence on all his new players and he got to the Malachi Flynn tape. His goal at that point was simple.
“To put a smile on his face,” Rajakovic said Tuesday following practice. “You know I told him first time we met, when you smile, when you’re having fun out there, when you’re competing, when you play with joy you’re a completely different player. I don’t want you to worry if you’re on the court five minutes or 10 minutes or 15 minutes, just go out there and play your best and try to help the team to win a game.
“So he embraced that,” Rajakovic said. “At the start of the season he didn’t know if (I was) serious about it or not. But now it’s like a huge difference with him. And I (have to) admit that Dennis Schroder played an amazing role (in that), just spending time with him, encouraging him, you know, helping him as a as a teammate. It’s tremendous what those two guys are doing together.”
Flynn recalls his first in-person meeting with Rajakovic this past summer.
“He just kept it real,” Flynn said. “He said he was going to give me a shot, that he thought I could help the team and the ways in which he saw it happening. I’m definitely thankful for that.”
The biggest lift for Flynn was the message that his minutes would not be based solely on shots made or missed anymore.
Changes are coming to the Toronto Raptors so-called ‘Win The Day’ chain in the not-to-distant future.
The chain, a massive gold necklace, designed by Raptors assistant coaches Felicia Brown and Jama Mahlalela, has grown into a symbol of this new era of Raptors basketball. It’s an award given out by Toronto’s head coach Darko Rajaković to the player who most embodies the team’s culture.
“It’s not necessarily the best player,” Rajaković said Tuesday after awarding the chain to Chris Boucher for his effort off the bench in Monday’s come-from-behind victory over the Washington Wizards. “We just want to acknowledge special contributions to our culture and identity.
The award doesn’t always have to go to a player, Rajaković added. At one point the team thought about awarding it to one of the assistant coaches who correctly told Rajaković to challenge a crucial call earlier this year. It’s anyone who embodies what the Raptors want to be all about this season.
“I wanted to do it from the start (of the year),” Rajaković said. “Just with the idea to promote our culture and identity and what we want to do. I’ve found it’s a nice way to celebrate a team, a person, a contribution.”
The chain is only awarded after wins and not given out following practices. Toronto has in the past given out a WWE-like belt to players following successful training camp practices. It doesn’t appear as though Toronto is given out any special awards during practice this year.
Ron Harper Jr.
Harper Jr. grew more comfortable as the season progressed last year. He’ll likely be featured more prominently this season on this team, as they lack firepower and playmaking skills. Harper Jr. will need to show that he can hit his perimeter shots and make winning plays consistently. Defensively, he might have to play his natural position down low. Still, he’ll need to show that he can keep up against opposing wings on the perimeter. Two-way contract players don’t get a lot of rope; just ask Justin Champagnie, so he’ll need to show another level of improvement in his game.
Nowell should have the keys at the point guard spot and be out to prove all of his doubters wrong. His first step towards his #ProveEm tour is to show the scouts that he’s a top-level NBA G League point guard. He’ll have to learn how to navigate through bigger, stronger, and quicker defenders at this level while showcasing that he can run a team. Not just to dish out highlight-reel passes but also to manage the team’s offense and ensure the offense is on point. Defensively, he’ll have to find ways to overcome his size limitation when teams target him or put him in tough positions.
Freeman-Liberty’s role as an energy guy who can come in and make positive contributions in limited minutes is probably at the NBA level, but what’s probably holding him back is his perimeter shooting. With the Raptors 905, he should be “1B” at worst on the offensive pecking order. Freeman-Liberty should get plenty of reps, whether it’s on-ball or off-ball. It’ll be interesting to monitor when and how he’s getting his shots within the framework of the half-court offense. His stock is on the rise after going undrafted last year, patiently waiting for his opportunity (and taking advantage when he got the opportunity) while playing for the Windy City Bulls, and taking advantage of the Summer League to showcase his talent. Expect Freeman-Liberty’s case to get some look with the main club if he can hit his perimeter shots consistently.