Scoring depth key to Raptors’ strong start
Toronto getting quality contributions from Siakam, Ibaka ahead of hosting New York Knicks tonight
TORONTO — Nick Nurse hasn’t been sleeping well. And that’s a good thing.
Back home after a perfect and historic 4-0 western road swing, and boasting the best record in the NBA at 11-1, the new Toronto Raptors coach has been too pumped to sleep.
“It’s exciting,” Nurse said after Friday’s practice. “I wish I was sleeping better to be honest with you. I’ve always been like that. After a loss, I go home and pass out and don’t give it another thought. When I’m winning, I’m too excited.
“I’m trying to even-keel it a little bit more, like I’m telling the team to.”
The trip marked the first time in franchise history the Raptors have gone undefeated out west.
It also put Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka squarely onto the scouting reports of opposing teams that already had their hands full trying to find ways to stop Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard.
“That’s the real beauty of it, because you know they’re game-planning for Kyle and Kawhi, and I’m not sure people game-planned for Serge much when he was playing (power forward), but now you can see they’re planning for him rolling and playing inside.
“Now there is Pascal. It’s tough to gameplan for a whole bunch of people, but that’s what we’re trying to get to . . . they have to do it or else those guys will continue to hurt them, but it will open up more things for Kyle and Kawhi again.”
Siakam is second in the league in twopoint percentage at 71.3 per cent behind Utah’s Rudy Gobert. Ibaka, who’s playing better than he has at any time in Toronto, is fourth (66.4).
Ibaka has been thriving since Nurse moved the Congolese big man back to centre this season. On his career-best scoring night (34 points) last week against the L.A. Lakers, Ibaka was like a freight train on a straight track to the rim, often filling the lane off fast breaks.
Ibaka’s shot attempts near the rim are up significantly, almost double the 29.6 per cent he shot from inside last season.
“You have to choose which one you do the best,” he said, on points in the paint versus three-point shooting. “Not everybody can do everything at a high level. So you choose the one you think can help your game.”
While it’s still early, signs are pointing to a breakout season for Siakam. He’s always been a big boost of energy for the Raptors, but now has added some eye-popping ball movement to his repertoire.
Lowry, meanwhile, leads the league in assists with 11.3 per game, and Leonard is averaging 26 points a night with admittedly much of the Raptors’ offence still to learn, making for a multi-headed nightmare for opposing teams.
The Raptors, Siakam said, definitely aren’t resting on their laurels.
“There is always room for improvement,” said the wiry 24-year-old from Cameroon. “We’ve played some decent basketball and we’re winning games and more importantly I think we can always get better.
“On defence, I don’t think we’ve reached our potential or what we can do just with the length that we have and the guys on the team. And offence, we’re still figuring everything out. We still have a long way to go.”
The Raptors are home for the next three games, starting tonight against the New York Knicks (4-8, 11th in the East). The New Orleans Pelicans are in Toronto on Monday. And former Raptors coach Dwane Casey, who was fired after the team failed to get past the Cleveland Cavaliers in last season’s playoffs, brings his Detroit Pistons to town on Wednesday.
Longtime commissioner, Stern, pleased to see Raptors thriving
TORONTO — David Stern and Raptors president Masai Ujiri are in agreement — there’s no doubt Toronto has become a destination for NBA players.
And Stern, the league’s commissioner from 1984 to 2014, said any notion the city isn’t one died long ago.
“It has not worn off, it has been exploded off,” Stern said. “Toronto has the most wonderful array of sports assets and a cosmopolitan community and a great building.
“It’s a pleasure to see that it is a destination city that players want to go to.”
Stern oversaw the NBA’s expansion to Canada during his tenure, with both the Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies joining the league ahead of the 1995-96 campaign.
But while the Raptors have flourished after some early struggles, the Grizzlies only lasted six seasons before moving to Memphis in 2001.
“I consider (Toronto) a great success,” Stern said. “Just as I consider Vancouver to be one of our failures.”
Stern still believes there’s a chance the NBA might one day return to Canada’s west coast.
“I would never say never about anything,” the 76-year-old said. “Vancouver still has a great building.”
Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam dunks over Sacramento Kings guard Iman Shumpert during NBA action Wednesday in Sacramento, Calif.