Analysis | The Raptors are trying new things and the opening night lineup remains a mystery

The Raptors have played three preseason games, and they’ve been good at parts of each and bad at parts of each. That’s to be expected given the listing, the relative inexperience, the need to integrate a significant number of new parts, and some new schematics.

But it is the work that they are doing before and after the games that matters the most and according to some who are fully involved in that process, everything is going well, thank you very much.

“They’re learning,” veteran guard Fred VanVleet said. “That’s all you want to see is improvement every day. They are learning. I think (Coach Nick Nurse) is teaching a lot more than he used to, I think we’re all teaching a lot more than we’re used to, but you just want to see retention. You want the boys to pay attention.

“You just want to keep seeing guys taking action, and we’ll see who can play and who can’t, who can follow a game plan, who can get coaching. And we are seeing it. “

The complexities of what the Raptors are doing are many, given the newness of much of the roster and the absence of four key players in the rotation: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, Khem Birch and Yuta Watanabe.

They’re changing the offense a bit so that forwards and forwards are handling the ball more instead of guards, and every player on the court seems to be putting up screens somewhere. They’re trying to capitalize on their length and athleticism on defense to turn on almost every screen, and that requires split-second decision making and communication that isn’t as ingrained as it should be.

It’s a process, and that’s why they’ve looked great at times in some games and as a bunch of strangers in others. But they were better in Saturday’s loss in Boston than in Thursday’s loss in Philadelphia and, they say, improve daily in practice.

With two games remaining in preseason and then a week of practice before the regular season opener on Oct. 20 at home against Washington, there is time for the necessary adjustments.

“I’m watching the movie and I’m like ‘God, I’m talking about that a lot.’ We have to redefine it, re-explain it, go over it, and it’s just a little bit more to go over some of those things with a fine tooth comb and then re-pierce a lot more, ”said the nurse. said. “It’s interesting and fun, it’s fun to watch them grow and they have grown a lot since the summer. Much.”

The positives have been rookie Scottie Barnes’ overall game, the appearance of Svi Mykhailiuk and Precious Achiuwa, and rookie Dalano Banton looking more comfortable.

The Celtics' Bruno Fernando blocks Raptors rookie Dalano Banton in Saturday night's preseason game in Boston.

But Malachi Flynn has struggled at times, and Freddie Gillespie’s difficulty finishing at the rim is a problem. There are places that need to be fixed, without a doubt.

Trying to guess who will play how much in the regular season doesn’t make sense, partly because of missing players and partly because matchups and late-night absences are going to play a role.

“Every team you watch has two, three or four players every night, so you play with your best players. They will slide into the 32 to 36 (minute) range (in the regular season) and then you will have your other four or five guys for that night that are available and they have to be in the rotation, and they will be in the rotation, but I couldn’t tell you who they will be, ”Nurse said.

It’s impossible to say what the Raptors will be until they win back some of their lost players.

Siakam is weeks away from off-season shoulder surgery. Boucher, recovering from finger surgery, could be available near the start of the season, Birch was cleared of health and safety protocols Sunday but hasn’t had a practice yet, while Watanabe is already ruled out for the game. Monday against Houston with a calf strain. .

The dribbling effect will reduce some of the players who are now posting serious minutes to much more limited roles, and that should give the Raptors a boost. Until then, there is work to be done outside of the games that will not be apparent until the season begins.

“There is a big hole by the minute,” VanVleet said. “We have four guys that are probably going to be rotation guys that are out, so it’s a lot of minutes that they’re getting (other) guys. But I think we are seeing some good progress.

“Scottie is making improvements, Precious is making improvements, Svi played quite well. Yeah, there are guys that are making breakthroughs that you think can connect and disconnect, but that’s up to Nick and the coaching staff to figure out who’s going to do what. “


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