Coaching candidate: Why Darko Rajakovic could unlock Barnes, Siakam & Anunoby

Memphis Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic is reportedly one of the finalists for the head coaching job with the Raptors. His experience with Jaren Jackson, Desmond Bane and more on Grizzlies provides a track record of helping players hit a new level with their offensive game.

Video Transcript

DAMICHAEL COLE: His hands-- and I think, you know, you wanted to get to this too. His hands are directly tied to the development of some of the biggest key players on the Grizzlies.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, let's get there, right now. So the names I mentioned, Jaren Jackson, Desmond Bane, of course, and Ziaire Williams, I have some quotes here I got from, I think it was, your story, where-- there's one from Zaire. His basketball knowledge is very good, especially on the offensive end. His schemes and the way he reads the game is pretty different. I haven't seen it before, honestly. Ooh. Spicy.

DAMICHAEL COLE: Yeah. Yeah. And that's what you get, right? So let's focus on those two guys, before we get to Jaren, cause-- cause it's a little different. And what Jaren-- there are some things he can really-- if we're talking Toronto, there are some things he can unlock with Siakam that he's really done with Jaren, kind of in a similar sort of role there. But--

AMIT MANN: Oh, you're speaking my language now. Yeah.


AMIT MANN: Keep going. Yeah, keep going.


AMIT MANN: Keep going. Yep, yep, yep.

DAMICHAEL COLE: But we can start there. We'll start with Jaren, then we'll get to the guys. So with Jaren, it's kind of unlocking more of that guard in his game. You know, Jaren has the skill set, like Pascal Siakam does. He-- as a guy who had, in Jaren's case, he's 6' 10", 240-plus pounds. Jaren has always been very fluid. But the words you hear when you think of Jaren, all the way since he was back in college, are raw and potential.

I remember once upon a time, those words were, you know, used, pretty much, with Siakam, when he was a little bit younger too.


DAMICHAEL COLE: Then I guess you could say he's more seasoned now. And that's kind of where Jaren has gone in the last two seasons. So when you talk about Jaren, there's a part of his game now where he can be the ball handler in a pick and roll. They don't do it a lot. But-- but there's certain things that he's working on there. This year, especially towards the latter part of the season, he got a lot better and reading double teams and reads. Cause that's kind of been a weakness in his game, just the playmaking standpoint of it.

That's where Darko, his tutelage has really helped Jaren. And you look at this-- these last couple years, but this season in particular, Jaren's 2-point percentage-- 2-point field goals was at a career high. And then just how he's played making off of those opportunities improved. And when I say improved, it's still not a strength of his, but there are noticeable changes where you can say, hey, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, when you get to Des and Ziaire, that's where the biggest example of Darko's influence is. So the Grizzlies do this thing. A couple years ago, they did it with Des. Des came into the Draft. I'm sure you remember, he was basically known as Shooter, one of the top shooters in the Draft. It's why he fell to the 30th pick in the draft cause no one knew this rebounding guard who's gonna push the tempo, who could play make. None of that was, I guess, strengths in his Draft profile.


DAMICHAEL COLE: Well, he gets to Memphis, rookie year, he's doing exactly pretty much what you think, a lot of spot up 3-point shooting and things like that. In the summer, he came to Summer League. Darko took him under his wing. And it was tough. Des-- Des had what he called a lot of uncomfortable moments. And Darko just challenged him. It was-- a lot of times, it was just those two. And--

AMIT MANN: Really?

DAMICHAEL COLE: --the emphasis was the playmaking. The emphasis was reading. And the emphasis was, hey, you need to become a better secondary playmaker, alongside of Ja Morant. Go look at his numbers over the last two seasons, how he's grown.

AMIT MANN: I know, man.

DAMICHAEL COLE: Last season, Desmond Bane really took that jump, where it's like, OK, this is a really good starting 2 guard in the League.


DAMICHAEL COLE: This past season, where he averaged over 21 points, basically on a bad foot for most of the season, over 4 and 1/2 assists, almost doubled his assists from the previous year. Now, there's real playmaking there. I think he had a stretch maybe in March, when Ja was out. But Ja was there for some of that stretch. He had a stretch, I think it was like, five, six games, consecutive, where he had 20 points and 5 assists, as the secondary playmaker. So this isn't, you know, primary guy.

But there are situations now, especially this season, where the Grizzlies, sometimes, games-- you mention it-- when Tyus Jones starts, Desmond Bane becomes the backup point guard. They staggered them. So he starts the game at 2 guard. And then when Tyus goes out, he moves over to the point guard position. And all of that is Darko.

Same thing as what they've kind of tried to do with Ziaire, and it's still kind of unfolding there. Cause Ziaire, again, different prospect than Desmond Bane. Desmond Bane played 4 years in college, came in a little bit more seasoned/


DAMICHAEL COLE: Ziaire was a 19-year-old kid. I think Ziaire's 20, just turned 21 not too long ago. So it's a little bit different of the progression. But last Summer League, the Grizzlies just threw the ball in his hands. Said here. They made Ziaire-- clearly, he's not gonna play point guard for the Grizzlies. But again, it's the Darko influence is how, you know, he wants-- you talk about the pick and roll--

AMIT MANN: Yeah, just know how to read, right, know how to read defenses. True.

DAMICHAEL COLE: Exactly. You-- he doesn't want one or two guys on the floor say, hey, these are our two guys that can play pick and roll. Everyone else, step out, space on the floor. He says, no, I want Ja Morant to be able to do it. I want Des to be able to do it. I want Ziaire Williams to be able to do it. I want Jaren Jackson Jr. to be able to do it.

And Steven Adams is setting those screens. But you want the other four guys in that lineup to be able to have the ball in their hands and be able to play on and off the ball. That's kind of one of those traits that he'll give you.

AMIT MANN: That's beautiful. I should've given a warning to Raptor fans before the Desmond Bane stuff. Because that's a sour spot for fans around here, knowing that they could have had him. And that was the year that the they took--


AMIT MANN: --Malachi Flynn instead.

DAMICHAEL COLE: That's where they took Malachi Finn, yeah.

AMIT MANN: But it comes up every couple months, I swear.


AMIT MANN: It comes up every few months that this-- they could've had Desmond Bane. But to your point, I mean, the Raptors, like, you know, Pascal Siakam is one point. But players like Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, them understanding how to be secondary playmakers, because they're not always gonna be on ball.

Or even like-- I was looking at the Clippers. And unfortunately, they lost to the Suns. But had they been healthy, had Kawhi been healthy, I think they probably would've beat them. And there was a moment where I'm looking at the court, I'm like, they got five guys that can run pick and roll right now on the court. That's crazy to me, man. That's crazy.


AMIT MANN: And that's the future, kind of, right?

DAMICHAEL COLE: That's where we are. I mean, you want the bigs to become, you know, more versatile within today's games. Because that's what we're seeing. You're seeing a lot of big men who are ball handling and things like that. But we're also seeing a lot of, you know, dribble handoffs and things, where the big mens are pretty much at the top of the key, dribbling around. There making these passes, where our guards are cutting back door and things like that.

And Darko, again, with the Grizzlies, with you know, guys like Jaren Jackson Jr. And with Des, from the cutting perspective, Desmond Bane and Steven Adams had a very good rapport as-- as a cutter. So, I mean, he is a-- he's a very big part of what this team has done, Darko, that is.

AMIT MANN: Yeah. And the cutting has been a big part of what the Raptors are trying to do within their current offensive philosophy. However, I mean, I've said it a few times on these podcasts. You know, we're talking about the future coaches, or who could be future coaches on the Raptors.

The cutting was good, but it could've been a lot better. And the halfcourt offense had some legs to it. But there could definitely could've been more movement, more off-ball movement. And also, understanding how to cut. You know, it's a valuable skill, knowing how to cut, knowing how to be that second side action and understanding how to manipulate defenses when you don't have the ball. It's really, really important.

And for the Raptors, when they have so many like-size players-- and some of them, you know, aren't the best shooters right now-- being able to cut and read, like, a little bit faster means everything. So that's actually-- that's very exciting. If he were to become the coach of the Raptors, I think he'd be able to really have a lot of fun with, you know, an OG, a Scottie Barnes, especially a Scottie Barnes.

He's an open book right now, so much potential. Kind of, the world is his oyster. He's gonna be-- you know, during-- during the off season, gonna be working on, you know, several different parts of his game. But someone like him I think could really help--


AMIT MANN: --Scottie, you know?

DAMICHAEL COLE: --perfect example, perfect example right there. Scottie is the perfect example. From afar, I remember when he came in the League, you knew he had the potential to do, you know, the points, the rebounds, assists, and kind of be an all-around guy. And that's kind of what-- in Darko's mind, you know, that's kind of where his tutelage shows, again, with Desmond Bane.


DAMICHAEL COLE: It's what he's working on the most with Ziaire Williams. And that-- you know, a guy like Scottie Barnes, I could see him, you know, relishing in that role.

AMIT MANN: How does he-- how is he with players, player-coach relationships? How does that go? I could see, you know, just going off what you're saying, that there could be some tough conversations. But, you know, if, in the end, you are helping this person reach their full potential, most players are OK with that.

DAMICHAEL COLE: And that's all it comes down to.


DAMICHAEL COLE: You know, Zi-- I don't think Ziaire had fun playing that point guard position in Summer League, when he's coming past halfcourt, dribbling the ball, you know, and, like, looking down at the ball, and sometimes having turnovers, and things like that. But they weren't gonna stop. Same thing with Desmond Bane. He's turning the ball over and he's like, man, just let me go back to shoot guard. No.


DAMICHAEL COLE: No. It's uncomfortable from that perspective. But when the results start to show, that's when, you know, you get real excited. But the players love him. Again, his buzzword is swag. So, like--

AMIT MANN: I love that so much.

DAMICHAEL COLE: When you hear the Grizzlies-- we talk about the confidence of the Grizzlies. I'm sure, you know, you guys have heard about the trash talking. And everyone hears it, right? In the locker room, the coaches, Taylor Jenkins is, you know, the speaker for the Grizzlies. So he says, oh, it's our swag, it's our confidence. But it's Darko who's kind of using that word in the practices a little bit more. So it's kind of-- Taylor is kind of the speaker for Darko, from that perspective as well. Because again, the players, when they talk about-- the players don't say swag as much. They kind of, like, use it as, like, Darko's a little outdated, you know? Because he's saying swag.

AMIT MANN: Yeah. It's like when a da-- if a dad says swag, right?

DAMICHAEL COLE: Yep, exactly.

AMIT MANN: It's kind of like that.

DAMICHAEL COLE: That's exactly how-- it's exactly how they view it.

AMIT MANN: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

DAMICHAEL COLE: So-- but it's a fun thing to them.