When Masai Ujiri speaks, you hear.
The newly signed Vice Chairman and President of the Toronto Raptors spoke to the media in-person on Wednesday afternoon stay from Toronto for the primary time for the reason that begin of the pandemic. He was in his colloquial bag, dropping gems about wrestling MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum in a room for 2 months straight whereas negotiating his contract, telling Treasured Achiuwa “you’re mine now” as soon as the ex-Giants of Africa camper landed in Toronto, professing Lowry is the best Raptor of all time, and saying “it’s unimaginable” how groups all the time have offers accomplished simply two minutes after free company begins, all with a smile on his face.
However greater than being his typical assured and optimistic self, Ujiri spoke a few new imaginative and prescient for the Toronto Raptors; a means for the franchise to blaze a path on the courtroom and off of it.
Ujiri spoke concerning the significance of the workforce returning to Toronto this season (he appears assured that they’ll), claiming that the displaced season in Tampa Bay price the franchise two years of progress, and that one other displaced season would price them 5 years. He was excited concerning the potential alternatives that the rising metropolitan of Toronto offers, and spoke about how gamers haven’t even “scratched the floor” within the methods they may assault the world with Toronto as a house base.
Ujiri targeted on the necessity to develop younger gamers, saying that the Raptors wouldn’t be a superteam with a number of superstars coming by free company and would as an alternative win by drafting and creating younger expertise, believing that “all these gamers we expect have a degree to go (up)” within the growth curve.
However possibly most essential for followers watching from residence, wanting desperately to know what the Raptors are going to resemble on the courtroom after a tumultuous season wherein they struggled on each ends of the ground and completed with a 27-45 report — twelfth within the Japanese Convention, lacking the playoffs for the primary time since 2013 —Ujiri offered perception into his team-building philosophy and about how future iterations of the Raptors will possible look.
“In the future, we wish to play massive and lengthy,” Ujiri mentioned about his imaginative and prescient for the Raptors, a workforce that drafted three massive ball-handlers within the 2021 NBA draft and who enter the season with a roster sporting 11 gamers 6-foot-8 or taller. “We’re going to create our personal path. We don’t have to maneuver in the way in which the league is transferring. The NBA is such a copy-cat league.” The Raptors wish to blaze their very own path.
Masai Ujiri talks concerning the present make-up of the Raps and the way they’ll proceed transferring ahead. pic.twitter.com/9IFQm17VCO
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) August 18, 2021
In a league that values “tempo and area” — the power to play quick whereas spacing the ground with a number of three-point shooters — whereas trending in the direction of valuing offensive creators over protection ones, the Raptors are stepping into a unique path. Moderately than concentrating on younger gamers with extremely developed offensive expertise or occasion creation — the power to create advantageous alternatives on the ground for you and your teammates — the Raptors are searching for massive, prolonged, athletic gamers who transfer properly and excel on the defensive finish of the ground. Name it “size and power,” if you’ll.
That’s a part of the explanation the Raptors drafted 6-foot-8 ahead Scottie Barnes, 6-foot-9 Canadian level guard Dalano Banton, and 6-foot-3 combo-guard David Johnson within the 2021 NBA Draft as an alternative of concentrating on offensive initiators like Jalen Suggs or Shariffe Cooper, and it’s why Ujiri plucked Nigerian middle Treasured Achiuwa out of Miami fairly than Tyler Herro as a part of the Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade. That defensive prowess and flexibility can be a part of the explanation the Raptors worth Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby so extremely, why they just lately signed Chris Boucher and Khem Birch to multi-year offers, and even why they’re bringing Sam Dekker and Isaac Bonga to coaching camp. Even Fred VanVleet, a 6-foot-0 level guard with brief arms, matches the Raptors’ mould as a defensive-minded participant who’s elite and ripping the ball away from gamers and sensible sufficient to rotate on a string together with his teammates.
Merely put, the Raptors nonetheless consider protection wins championships. In a league trending in the other way — particularly with superteams just like the Brooklyn Nets and to a lesser extent the Los Angeles Lakers with Russell Westbrook — the Raptors hope to comply with their very own path. And there are classes to take from previous Raptors’ groups that would present perception into which means this roster is trending and the way this workforce goes to attempt to play on each ends of the ground.
As Ujiri and head coach Nick Nurse have repeatedly made clear: protection is the precedence. When Nurse was requested to broaden upon that sentiment just lately, he talked about that the NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks finally had the perfect protection within the league final season. Which means the Raptors might want to enhance on their nineteenth ranked protection from final season and transfer in the direction of the 2nd, fifth, and fifth ranked defenses from the three seasons prior in the event that they wish to be aggressive. That received’t be simple, because the Raptors have misplaced key defensive contributors lately together with Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Inexperienced. They’ve changed them with massive, defensive-minded gamers, sure, however younger ones who’re but to show themselves on the NBA degree and who will possible want time to regulate to the pace and physicality of NBA basketball, to not point out Nurse’s subtle and distinctive defensive system.
The opposite space the place the Raptors want to enhance with a view to attain their potential is in transition, an space the Raptors will depend on to gas their offense subsequent season. After getting defensive rebounds and forcing turnovers, the Raptors will wish to run and rating effectively towards unset defences, partly as a result of they’ve the instruments to take action and since they don’t undertaking to be superb within the half-court. Sadly, the Raptors struggled in transition final season, scoring simply 1.12 factors per possession in transition, twelfth worst within the NBA. However a ton of their offense nonetheless got here on the break, and the gamers acquired higher at taking part in on the pace Nurse expects from them because the season went alongside, with Siakam specifically getting a lot better at making performs for his teammates on the run. Add Scottie Barnes into the combo subsequent 12 months and so they undertaking to be actually laborious to cease in transition, with a number of massive, quick ball handlers with passing chops and ability to complete across the rim.
However when Ujiri speaks about taking part in sooner or later taking part in “massive and lengthy,” he isn’t referring to gradual 7-footers lumbering up and down the courtroom. Actually, the workforce at present has zero gamers listed at 6-foot-10 or taller. As a substitute, Ujiri is probably going referring to what individuals in NBA circles may really name “small ball,” as a result of even with Khem Birch and Treasured Achiuwa manning the middle spots, the Raptors are comparatively small at that place and can as an alternative depend on a number of wing-sized gamers who’re sensible, fast, prolonged, and powerful sufficient to protect a number of positions.
They will even possible play with out both of these facilities for lengthy stretches, if not this season, then down the road in a playoff collection with a view to maximize their spacing. It’s possible that the Raptors observed one thing within the small-ball lineup that dominated stretches of the 2020-21 season, with Lowry-VanVleet-Powell-Anunoby-Siakam zipping across the courtroom and wreaking havoc on each ends, outscoring opponents by 14.0 factors per 100 possessions. With Barnes and Banton now in tow, the Raptors are constructing a workforce that may probably have three or 4 Anunoby/Siakam varieties on the ground at a time who can every guard a number of positions and canopy a ton of floor whereas nonetheless rebounding, negating the necessity for a standard middle and basically taking “small ball” to its excessive.
The Raptors have exploited market inefficiencies ever since Masai Ujiri took over in 2013. Most just lately, it concerned drafting older gamers that different groups handed up on. Now, it entails concentrating on versatile wing-sized gamers who can deal with the ball, create for others, and defend throughout positions even when their offensive expertise lag behind. They appear to consider that that is the trail to success, and no less than till the remainder of the league catches on, it is perhaps.
“We wish to win in Toronto,” Masai mentioned repeatedly all through his press convention. “All that stuff is from the previous. We are able to have a good time and be cool concerning the previous. [But] the NBA is now. We’re constructing for the longer term.”
“In some methods there’s unfinished enterprise.”
Tip Oren Weisfeld
Masai Ujiri has a brand new imaginative and prescient for the Toronto Raptors originated on Raptors Republic.