10 things: Raptors’ defence continues to crater during recent slide – Sportsnet
One of the weaknesses on defence has been Siakam. It was most obvious Monday, where he gave up three line drives and failed to close out on an open corner three against Nassir Little. With all due respect to Little, but a player of his calibre should be easy for Siakam to contain. There was a poor stretch in the fourth quarter where Siakam was involved in a string of mistakes against Little, while also failing to close out on McCollum nor contain Lillard up top. Those are more excusable, but it’s quite clear that Siakam is still getting back up to speed defensively since returning from shoulder surgery.
He lacks the extra effort and the burst of quickness that he usually relies on to cover ground, and the result is either blow-bys or needless fouls where Siakam reaches in. This is perfectly natural for someone coming off a prolonged absence and jumping straight into action against opponents who are already in the rhythm of the season. Siakam will eventually come around and return to the responsible defender he has proven to be in the last few seasons, and that alone should improve the defence as a whole.
For Raptors’ aggressive defence to work, Nick Nurse knows he needs to lengthen his bench – The Athletic
The Raptors’ defence has been abysmal since Nov. 5, when they lost to Cleveland, the start of a stretch in which they have lost five times in six games. They are allowing the most points per possession over that span, the highest effective field-goal percentage and also have crept down from elite to slightly above average in forcing turnovers. No team is allowing more corner 3 attempts than the Raptors since then, while teams are shooting 70 percent in the restricted area against them, fourth-best in the league.
“It doesn’t seem like we operate that great (when) missing two or three guys,” Nurse said. In addition to the two big men, Siakam missed the game against Philadelphia, while VanVleet missed the loss in Detroit.
“The continuity and chemistry, this team hasn’t handled it as well as we probably need to,” Nurse said. “That’s a fact of life in this league. Guys are gonna be in, and guys are gonna be out.”
There is another factor here: Maybe the aggressive defence the Raptors are playing is not compatible with guys playing heavy workloads. The quarterly breakdown suggests the Raptors struggle to defend as games go on, with fatigue perhaps playing a role in that. Their opponents are shooting better than 40 percent from deep in the third quarter, with free-throw rate and effective field-goal percentage rising steeply. Some take fouls to extend games account for some of the poor stats late in games, but not all of it.
More to the point, the Raptors’ schemes require a lot of energy, which is something Nurse says daily.
“When you play good teams … it’s tough to consistently trap or have pressure,” Siakam said. “There are gonna be drives, and there is gonna be help (we need to provide). If other people are making shots, then all of a sudden, it looks like we’re playing bad defence. But the way we play dictates it. If we (use) ball pressure, a good player in the league is gonna drive you, we’re gonna help and somebody’s gonna be open for a shot. We’ve got to contest it harder, probably. That’s what it is.”
That is a lot to ask of a tired player, which brings us back to the initial point. Can a team use this scheme, play good defence and play its starters a ton of minutes? It’s possible, but probably not likely, and definitely not ideal. Accordingly, Nurse has to either adjust the Raptors’ defensive philosophy soon — which isn’t going to happen this early in the season — or find ways to get his reserves more minutes.
That brings about a chicken-or-egg question: Will the reserves play better if they are given more minutes, or will giving them more minutes help them play better? Against Portland, Nurse’s response to an early Trail Blazers run in the fourth quarter was totally reasonable. Given the days off, given the injuries, given the chance to win the game, when Portland went on an 8-0 run against a bench-heavy unit, Nurse opting to put his starters back in just 75 seconds into the final frame was the best chance at a win. That the Raptors turned a 13-point deficit into a four-point deficit — and then another 11-point deficit into a one-point deficit — backs up the decision.
If Raptors can’t rediscover defensive identity, playoff hopes will fade fast – Sportsnet
It’s a fair assessment, but there are some other possibilities, too. One might simply be that the way Nurse wants the Raptors to defend is very difficult. Typically, pursuing one kind of advantage defensively means giving up something somewhere else. Teams that pack the paint to help defend the rim at all costs are sometimes vulnerable to giving up too many comfortable looks from three. Teams that want to pressure the ball all over the floor are vulnerable in the paint and at the rim or can get caught in rotations and leave shooters wide open when a team moves the ball well.
Nurse’s answer to these conundrums has generally been: “do both.”
He wants his teams to be able to react quickly to help on dribble penetration or otherwise collapse to the ball but also make the second and third efforts needed to challenge high-value three-point shots.
But it’s hard. Exhausting even. And harder still on nights like Monday when Nurse played his starters between 39 and 41 minutes, played Khem Birch 21 minutes off the bench and then played everyone else 20 minutes combined.
“I’d like to say I’m OK. What’d I play, 40 minutes last night?” said Siakam, who appeared in just his fourth game after missing the start of the season while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. “There are some plays where it’s like, ‘Oh damn.’ But at the end of the day that’s what it’s gonna be. I’m the type of person, I like to get to the point where I’m exhausted. I think I’m better that way. If I’m not tired, that means I’m just going through the motions.”
So was he exhausted last night?
“I was exhausted,” said Siakam, who has averaged 22.5 points, 6.5 assists and nine rebounds on 55 per cent shooting over his last two outings. “I was tired. I think that’s good for me, especially trying to get my wind back. It’s tough, but you’ve got to do it.”
Raptors Getting Burned by Defense’s Hyper Aggressiveness – Sports Illustrated
Two weeks ago, the Toronto Raptors were riding high, defying expectations, and sitting pretty at 6-3 with the league’s sixth-ranked defense. It was the kind of start to the season to get excited about. Sure, the offense still had a lot of work to do, but that was expected. The defense, however, looked like the real deal.
Now, everything is a mess.
Somehow Toronto has gone from having one of the best defenses in the league to having the worst defense in the league over the past two weeks. During this 1-5 stretch, they’re surrendering 120.3 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass, the worst in the NBA by a pretty significant amount.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, the Raptors’ over-aggressiveness is killing them right now. They haven’t been crisp on rotations and their eagerness to get up and defend at the point of attack has created far too many blow-by opportunities for opposing teams. On Monday, for example, the Portland Trail Blazers created at least 10 buckets by beating their man one-on-one and either taking it up for a layup or making kick-out passes when Toronto began scrambling. In the game prior, against Detroit, the Pistons racked up 34 assists that led directly to 82 of Detroit’s 127 points.
Over this six-game stretch, opposing teams are shooting 70.3% at the rim and 39.7% from three-point range against Toronto, per Cleaning the Glass. Both of those numbers rank 28th in the league over that stretch and suggest the Raptors are getting killed in the two worst places to give up buckets.
This hyper aggressiveness has been a staple of the Raptors during head coach Nick Nurse’s tenure, and it makes sense with this versatile, switch-everything roster, but it might be time to tamp it down a little bit. Opposing teams are just waiting for the double teams to come and then finding the open man either inside or out for easy buckets. Until there’s more chemistry on defense, the Raptors’ all-or-nothing approach is going to continue to burn them.
The Malachi Flynn question is complicated for the Raptors, who need more of what he does best | The Star
He’s the same player today that he was a season ago, and yet games and games go by and the second-year Raptors guard basically sits and watches.
He’s still got the talent that made him an intriguing prospect as a rookie last season and who’d blame him if he got down on the organization a little bit, because all of a sudden it seems like he’s a forgotten piece.
Then he checks in with some wise old sages who went before him, retired veterans who know the ups and downs of an NBA career, and Flynn soldiers on because circumstances can change quickly.
And besides, nobody likes a whiner.
“You can complain maybe to your brother or something, but complaining over and over and trying to point the finger, it’s not going to do anything,” Flynn said Tuesday after the Raptors practised at the University of Portland, the day after a 118-113 loss to the Trail Blazers.
“I’m not pointing the finger at anybody. I’m taking it upon myself. What can I do to help myself? That’s the only thing I can control.
“It’s definitely easier said than done, but that’s what I’m trying to do.”
It helps, of course, that he has some experienced former NBAers helping him understand what’s going on. The NBA fraternity in the Pacific Northwest is small and tight. Flynn gets counsel from couple of smart old vets.
“Guys from back home like Isaiah Thomas, Jamal Crawford, they tell me the same thing: It’s a long year, keep your head up, just keep working,” Flynn said.
Raptors Content to Let Goran Dragic Wait on the Bench – Sports Illustrated
We’ll start with this: Goran Dragic isn’t bad.
That much was evident on Saturday night in the 35-year-old’s first game for the Toronto Raptors in nearly three weeks. He stepped in for an ailing Fred VanVleet and looked, well, adequate. That’s probably the best way to put it and also why he hadn’t played in the prior nine games and why he didn’t play in Monday night’s game.
Dragic is in a bit of a difficult spot right now. He’s been relegated to the bench for Toronto, being a DNP—coach’s decision in 10 of the team’s first 15 games, and has essentially become the emergency point guard, stepping in as the starter presumably whenever VanVleet gets injured.
“It’s part of the business,” Dragic said Saturday. “I had to adjust and it is what it is so just go with it and try to do my job and try to be professional.”
While Dragic certainly has the talent to crack Toronto’s rotation, the Raptors would prefer to give his minutes to the young guns on the roster, letting Dalano Banton and Malachi Flynn develop this year even if it comes at the cost of a win or two this season. So Dragic has been festering away on the bench waiting either for a buyout or a trade, neither of which project to happen anytime soon.
What’s clear, is the Raptors are in no rush to make a move. They aren’t playing Dragic hoping his trade value will suddenly increase and it doesn’t appear as though they’re engaged in any substantial talks. The only move they’ve made of note is waiving Sam Dekker earlier in the month, clearing the way for a Dragic buyout without going into the luxury tax.
WOLSTAT: Four Siakam games, four Raptors losses? Everybody relax | Toronto Sun
It’s also relevant that Fred VanVleet (the “head of the snake” as Dwane Casey put it the other day) didn’t play in one of the four Siakam games, Khem Birch — the team’s best defensive centre — missed a pair of them, and Precious Achiuwa (arguably Toronto’s best rebounder) and Chris Boucher (a big-time shot-blocker who throws off opponent’s three-point shooting by charging at them) missed half the games each.
Of course it’s reasonable to be a bit concerned by Toronto’s slump (losses in five of six following a five-game winning streak) which has primarily been caused by major defensive leakage (113 points allowed per game in the last six games), but it’s also understandable why things have gone awry.
Being out West on a long trip usually isn’t the most opportune time to work out the issues a team is facing, but in this case, the Raptors got two days off, starting with Tuesday, before playing again (Thursday in Utah), providing Nick Nurse a chance to get them in the video room and on the court. It will happen again next week, with the team playing Sunday in San Francisco, but not again until Wednesday in Memphis.
The results might not come immediately, but extra time to review what hasn’t been working should help the Raptors.
Time together in general is what this group needs.
The glass-half-full perspective would feature the fact that Siakam has looked much better than anyone could have reasonably expected him to offensively.
He has hit half his shots, including 5-of-13 three-point attempts (38.5%, far above his career norms), has looked comfortable scoring from all over the court and is creating for teammates well. Siakam is also, in these early days, getting to the free-throw line at a higher rate than ever before. That’s something to keep an eye on, since Toronto is not a team that gets to the line often and desperately needs Siakam’s creativity. With referees largely swallowing their whistles this season, it will be interesting to see if Siakam can keep getting calls.
Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 17 originated on Raptors Republic.