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When you score 132 points against an opponent, you are doing a lot right.
And chances are your opponents are doing plenty wrong as well.
The Charlotte Hornets, the team that gave up that 132 to Toronto, are a defensively challenged team at the moment. Only three teams in the NBA give up more points per 100 possessions than the Hornets.
But leaky defence only hurts if the opposition drains shots and the Raptors are a team quite capable of that. As a team, they shoot 46% from the field and an NBA-best 40.5% from behind the arc.
Toronto hasn’t always been a great shooting team, but even in the absence of two guys enjoying the best shooting seasons of their careers in Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka for the time being, the basketball keeps finding its target at a very satisfying rate.
The thing is, the Raptors have made themselves a good shooting team.
OG Anunoby didn’t arrive in the league the shooter he is today. Anunoby sank 10 of the 13 shots he attempted Monday night, four of seven from distance. The accuracy was probably less surprising than the variety of ways he scored.
Even as a rookie, Anunoby could successfully set up in a corner, wait for the pass and hit a standard three.
But Monday he was draining pull-up threes from 27 feet, laying in a driving a reverse layup, casually dropping in a 24-foot step back, or punishing the rim with a cutting dunk.
The arsenal is full and he uses all of it.
As Fred VanVleet will tell you, none of that comes without hard work and Anunoby, after an up-and-down season a year ago that was interrupted by off-court issues, injuries and finally ended by a burst appendix depriving him of a role in that playoff championship run, put in a hard offseason.
But the foundation for that kind of success is a sound, fundamental stroke and that is where the organization comes in.
The Raptors develop their talent arguably as good as any team this side of the San Antonio Spurs, maybe better. You see it post-practice with assistant coach Patrick Mutombo patiently working Anunoby and Norm Powell through 30 minutes of shooting drills long after the practice has ended.
Pascal Siakam once missed 27 consecutive three-pointers over a 15-game span in just over a month. That was two years ago. Today, he’s shooting threes at a 36% clip and both he and his head coach believe that mark is only going to climb.
“I say it all the time, with Pascal, he shoots the ball pretty well,” Nick Nurse said. “But he’s still 18 months or 24 months away from being really good.”
Siakam, like Anunoby, like VanVleet, like a number of Raptors currently on the roster, are willing workers. Combine that with a staff that puts the time in and a head coach well-versed in the mechanics of shooting and never afraid to try something new and you get a group that shoots the ball well now and who are only going to get better.
VanVleet is asked who the shot doctor on the staff would be. In the past, the Raptors have employed coaches like John Townsend and Dave Hopla as shooting coaches, but there is no such designation on this staff.
“It might be Nurse, honestly,” VanVleet said. “He’s the one crazy enough to study all the, whatever, dynamics that goes into shooting. But Jim Sann is our guy. Patrick Mutombo. All the guys on the development staff that take the time to get with the guy and try to tune up his shot. It’s pretty individualized, depending on what you need. But I think overall it’s just the reps and finding the shot that you like and then just repping it out every single day. Finding a routine and sticking to it.”
Like Hopla and Townsend before him, Nurse has a long history with shooting and shot mechanics and the like.
“My training through the years has led me to do a lot of things,” Nurse said. “One of the things I did do out of college was starting teaching shooting. I was running shooting camps for a long time, literally right out of college. I think I was fortunate to have a high school coach that preached it. We had lots of form shooting. It used to drive us bonkers … I had a lot of good teachers along the way that helped me when I was in college, playing and learning how to shoot, etc. So I always tried to carry on with that. I always think that the more you teach something, the better you learn it.
“We have a lot of systems in place that we use,” Nurse said. “We’re fortunate enough here to have a lot of advanced analytics, cameras. We’ve got the Noah system. There are a lot of things we can pull immediately. We try to evaluate after each game. If there’s anything that’s really leaping out to us on straightness, depth, arc, are they taking the right shots? Sometimes that’s a big factor, too: How open are they? We have a lot of guys on our staff, too, that are good at it, that are shot doctors.”
The Noah system measures shots from anywhere on the court, in practice and in games. It gives instant, verbal feedback for shot arc, depth, and left-right, allowing players to correct their shot in real-time.
All of it combines to make the Raptors the kind of successful shooting team they are today, but it starts with the want-to from the player. Without that, all the instruction and shooting knowledge in the world is wasted.
SIAKAM, ISAAC RAISE EACH OTHER’S GAME
Pascal Siakam and Jonathan Isaac appear to be the best thing out there for each other.
Siakam has already achieved the kind of level of success in the league Isaac craves.
A year ago in the regular season, it was Isaac giving Siakam fits. In the playoffs, a 4-1 first-round series win by the Raptors, Siakam turned the tables.
In their first meeting earlier this year, both enjoyed success at the expense of the other. Isaac had a career-high 24 points in the win while Siakam had 24 of his own in addition to nine rebounds in the game.
Head coach Nick Nurse likes the challenge Isaac presents for his soon-to-be all-star.
“I think the biggest thing for me when I’ve seen (Isaac) against us is he takes that challenge,” Nurse said. “He comes into that game focused on really playing defence and really trying to shut Pascal down. He’s coming to work against him. I think that’s admirable. If a guy is going to take a defensive stance on his team and provide that role and he has the length and athleticism to do it and then he puts the desire into it, that’s it. He’s also improved his offensive game as well.”
Siakam sounds like the matchup appeals to him as well.
“Obviously he’s a great talent with his length and the things he can do on the floor is really incredible,” Siakam said. “He can shoot, he can defend. It’s always fun playing against Orlando. It’s always been a fun match-up for us.”
Isaac though is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game with a sprained right ankle that has already cost him two games. He is listed among the expected starting five in advance of the game even with his questionable status.
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