With the Raptors at full strength, improving defense remains the biggest challenge

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With the Raptors at full strength, improving defense remains the biggest challenge


With OG Anunoby back, the Toronto Raptors are now at full power for the first time since their COVID crisis hit in late February and even long before that if you count the minor ailments that seemed to keep one starter or another on the sidelines. for much of the year.
Now the challenge for the Raptors is to get their game back, especially defensively.

The Raptors have lost six in a row and eight of their last nine and are currently 20th in the NBA defensive standings of the season, allowing 112.1 points per 100 possessions. Last season, the Raptors were second in the NBA in defensive efficiency.

During their nine-game slide, which put them in 11th place in the East with a 17-23 record, the Raptors’ image is even darker as Toronto gives up 118.3 points / 100, or 27th. of the NBA.

Running out of three starters and two other rotational players is a factor, obviously. But with Anunoby now available, the Raptors will have to put their personnel issues aside and find a way to plug the leaks.

“The point is, it’s a learning process or a relearning process or whatever,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who is trying to get his team ready for a date with the Utah Jazz. , leader of the NBA, Friday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa ” [But] … You also have to be realistic, right? For example, I mean you can be upset and go crazy about it, but you have to have realistic (views) … [nearly three] weeks and the game is going as fast as hell. … You have to understand that they are not in great shape, that they are not in great cardio shape. It’s mentally hard just to come back… but, we have to teach them, we have to talk about it, we have to go through it on film, we have to go through it and go through it.

The to-do list is long. This is a team that hasn’t held a playoff-tied team within 100 points in a month and gave up 129 and 116 points to the Pistons and their 24th offense in straight losses to the residents of the Eastern Conference basement.

“The bad news is that there are a lot of things… I think when you have a list of issues you have to try to prioritize and deal with it. You cannot face them all. [So,] we need to improve our defenses. We’re doing a really bad job in transition, a really poor job when we’ve been as good as anyone in the league at it.

« [And] we do a really poor job at the end of possessions. So the environment isn’t too bad, right? If we can get our defense play and keep them at one hit, we get a lot of saves. There are still a lot of really good things in between. But we’ve got to clean up the beginning and the end, man.

But these things are complicated. Two of the Raptors’ highlights this season have been Norman Powell, who has proven to be one of the league’s most effective and deadliest scorers but is an inconsistent defenseman and Chris Boucher, who lifted the bench to time and time again with his bustle around the basket on offense and his ability to hit three at a high rate otherwise. But aside from his ability to block shots, the slim six-foot-10 center is a handicap on the defensive glass – the Raptors are 29th in defensive rebound percentage – and he’s still learning his way as a perimeter defender, which limits the alignments and the nurse is comfortable using it.

The Raptors need his offensive punch, but also need him to make defensive progress.

“He has to be able to keep a four man in this league… the only problem with that right now is that a lot of the four men look like Jerami Grant and Pascal Siakam. They are very powerful guys. … We’re in a sticky situation, I have to be honest with you, ”Nurse said. “It’s a tough place we’re in because he looks great on offense. Even blocked shots look great. But we give up a lot on the other end. We have to find out.

Boucher, who is reaching career highs in almost every statistical category and can garner some consideration for the league’s Most Improved Player or Sixth Man awards, knows he still has some room for improvement.

“I’m just trying to find ways to help this team and find ways to contribute to the defense. Sometimes it’s not just about blocking the shots, sometimes you just have to put your body there and just seeing you there might prevent it from driving the ball, ”Nurse said. “When it comes to a three-way contest, I just have to stay a little lower. I know I can have it but sometimes you just have to stay down and challenge it, and if he succeeds we will live with it, but having love at first sight and stuff, it doesn’t help our defense. ”

Likewise, Nurse hasn’t seemed too impressed with Powell’s exploits lately – after hitting a career-high 43 against the Pistons, Powell is averaging 30.3 points per game on 49% shots from deep in the over his last seven games – he’d much prefer more solid team play, rather than having a player to carry the attack no matter how hard he does.

“We [only] had Norm and Kyle out of there and there would be a lot more opportunities for Norm, right? So we will see how it fits into [now they the Raptors are healthy]Said the nurse. “I’m more concerned with playing basketball, playing both ends, making the right play, I think Norm’s had the ability to score, I’ve known that for a long time. I didn’t need to see him score 40, 30, 40, 30 … [but] we have to play the possessions to win them and [the scoring] will move from night to night. ”

There’s a lot to do and little time to do with the trade deadline of March 25. Assuming the Raptors are still intact after that, there are still 32 games left to play in the kind of basketball – especially defensively – that the team has historically been capable of, but progress needs to be made sooner rather than later.

“I’m not even talking about winning and losing. I think from my perspective as a coach I have to have a realistic perspective on this, ”said Nurse. “The realistic perspective is that it will take a little while, [but] no one is expecting us. The games keep coming. Law? So we have to figure it out on the fly and we’re not going to find any excuses. We have to do it better and as fast as possible, otherwise it will be difficult to win. … [but] we’ll get there if we can just keep everyone on the floor for a little while. … I think everyone is engaged and focused on trying to get our fundamentals back here as quickly as possible.

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