November 4, 2019, 9:16 pm
OG Anunoby has gotten off to a great start in 2019-20, putting together what looks like a breakout campaign as a featured player. A high-level 3-and-D prospect, Anunoby is showcasing all that he has to offer on either end of the court through the Raptors’ first six games. It’s a step forward that has big implications for the team’s future, and is all the more notable given that his development to this point has hardly been linear.
Anunoby was a surprise in his first season, making a speedy return from a major knee injury at college and playing on opening night. It didn’t take him long to rise to the starting lineup, and it became apparent that Anunoby offered serious potential as a perfect complementary player in the modern game.
Last season brought a number of challenges for Anunoby and his development seemed to stagnate. The most obvious obstacle was Toronto’s acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, as it prevented Anunoby from taking a major leap in playing time. He went from 20.0 mpg as a rookie to just 20.2 as a sophomore, and though his usage rose Anunoby also shot worse from all three levels (field, 3-point line, free throw line), saw his turnover percentage increase while his assist rate dropped, and had his offensive and defensive ratings pass each other heading the wrong direction.
Off the court, Anunoby had to deal with the passing of his father right before the season began. When he was on the court, he never looked quite right thanks to a number of nicks and bumps and his season was ended by an emergency appendectomy on the eve of the playoffs.
On top of all that, Pascal Siakam took off like a rocket, earning a max contract and replacing OG as Toronto’s presumed building block for the next era. It was a trying year.
Mercifully, Anunoby looks to have turned things around, and in him the Raptors can see both their future and the issues that the team faces at the present reflected in his play.
The Raptors aren’t the same team that they were last year, but they know who they are and how they’ll need to play to stay afloat with a roster that’s simply too good to tank.
Toronto’s success will be predicated on their defensive identity, with the team’s undersized or slower players making smart, tough plays around the athletic hub of Siakam and Anunoby. They’ll try their best to muck games up and rely on length and smarts. The Raptors have preached defense for years but could never quite meet their goal with the roster’s core, up until last season.
Their free agent and trade acquisitions in the We The North era – DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, Leonard and Danny Green, and to a lesser extent the likes of Patrick McCaw, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – have been made to shore up the defensive end of the floor first and foremost.
In the sense that everything going forward will be viewed through the lens of how it works playing off of Siakam, Anunoby’s progress is vital. He gives the Raptors a bulkier athletic presence that can help absorb some of the league’s toughest matchups, as he did on Saturday night when he served as the primary defender on Giannis Antetokounmpo for approximately 3:23, compared to Siakam’s 3:38 per NBA.com. Anunoby’s ability to tread water in that sort of matchup takes on added importance given Siakam’s early issues with foul trouble.
Anunoby’s breakout is borne out in the numbers, and while the sample size is admittedly small he’s sporting a defensive rating of 99.3 and a net rating of plus-10.3, while averaging 1.7 steals, 1.5 blocks and 1.7 threes per game on .455 from behind the arc. Those numbers shouldn’t be expected to stay in that range but this is the sort of play that Anunoby’s biggest supporters have dreamed of.
That said, it’s at least possible that they don’t drop off significantly. With Leonard gone, Anunoby is averaging 34.2 minutes per game this season, nearly a 75 percent increase on last season’s playing time, when he averaged 1.0 threes, 0.7 steals and 0.3 blocks per contest. Despite some unsustainable production, this is the sort of jump that takes place when elite athleticism meets opportunity.
For as strong as the defense is, in principle and in practice, for both Anunoby and the Raptors, the offense remains a work in progress.
It’s unsurprising that the Raptors have struggled to find their way offensively after losing two starters and the team’s highest-usage player. Aside from Kyle Lowry, who has experience operating as a primary scorer, the rest of the Raptors are still finding their way as the usage vacuum gets filled.
Some of that has fallen to Anunoby, who is going to set career-highs in both points and attempts (currently at 11.8 points on 9.0 attempts per game), but it’s still an unfinished project. He’s taking fewer catch-and-shoot looks while dealing with more contested shots. It’s the sort of offensive load that the Raptors knew would be coming, and it’s one of the reasons that the team had decided to let Anunoby play as the go-to scorer in previous Summer League and garbage time stints.
Anunoby thrives when he’s making quick decisions; making timely cuts, using his explosiveness to drive past defenders or rising and firing quickly. It’s when he hesitates that the offensive warts are laid bare. Like the team overall, things can turn ugly when the first thought is snuffed out. Both should settle down over time as a new pecking order is established.
Like the rest of the Raptors, Anunoby has been empowered to take on more of the offensive burden, but whether or not he can hit his ceiling on that end of the floor remains to be seen.
In Anunoby, the Raptors can see quite a bit about the team as a whole. There are no questions about the defensive side of things, where the skills and intensity are a baseline requirement. Offensively, there are still questions that must be answered and growing pains that will be felt.
Although it’s Siakam’s growth that will be the headline as Toronto enters another era, Anunoby’s play is indicative of where their strengths lie and how much work is still left to be done elsewhere.
It’s far from perfect, but it’s not a bad place to be.
June 4, 2020, 2:00 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
The Board of Governors has approved the NBA's 22-team format to restart the 2019-20 season.
The vote was 29-1. It was widely expected that the format would get the go-ahead, even though more than one team didn't fully support the proposed plan, and the NBA has at least settled on what the season will look like once it's able to resume. They have also set the draft lottery for August 25 and the draft for October 15. The biggest hurdles remain anything that has to do with COVID-19, and to this point the league has yet to say anything about those challenges, but there is plenty of forward momentum these days.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 3, 2020, 9:23 pmEnes KanterC, Boston Celtics
Sean Deveney reported that "multiple agents say not all players are on board with an NBA return".
One agent said, "Most of the guys are excited, fired up, they want to get back out there. Those are 95 percent of the conversations I have had". There are players that feel the money is not worth putting themselves and their families at risk. Enes Kanter weighed in on the topic, saying "there are some other team's players out there, that they don't want to play. They're like, 'It's just a game. I'm not going to risk my life". It is likely that the high-profile players will still play, but it looks like some role players may not be willing to take the risk to join their team when the NBA season resumes.
June 3, 2020, 4:39 pmDerrick RosePG, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons announced that they plan to reopen team facilities on Thursday, allowing voluntary individual workouts while following all the social-distancing guidelines.
Although the Pistons' season is likely over as they are not one of the 22 teams that will continue to play if the Board of Governors vote to ratify the plan on Thursday, this will allow players to stay in shape for the 2020-21 season which is expected to start in December.
Source: James Edwards III
June 3, 2020, 11:41 amZion WilliamsonPF, New Orleans Pelicans
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Pelicans, Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards will be the six non-playoff teams resuming action when the NBA restarts.
This makes complete sense, as they're the only non-playoff teams that can sniff the postseason. Woj backs up an earlier Shams Charania report about a potential play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each Conference as well. If the ninth seed trails the eighth seed by more than four games when the league's truncated regular season wraps up, the eighth seed makes the playoffs. If the deficit is under four games, however, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for the ninth.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 3, 2020, 11:36 amLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA will have an eight-game regular season for the purposes of playoff seeding upon its return while Shams Charania reports that there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed.
This applies to the NBA coming back with 22 teams, as the league's bottom eight are well out of playoff contention and bringing them to Orlando would only negatively affect the league's pursuit for player safety. As for the play-in tournament, Charania describes it as such: "If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth." Expect another announcement about the league's format in the coming days.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 10:02 pmCorey BrewerSF, Sacramento Kings
Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.
Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.
June 2, 2020, 9:47 pmDeMarcus CousinsC, Los Angeles Lakers
Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.
This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.
June 2, 2020, 8:45 pmJohn WallPG, Washington Wizards
John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."
Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.
Source: The Athletic
June 2, 2020, 8:27 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.
An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.
Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 7:58 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.
With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter