Proof Darko Rajakovic is spearheading culture change

Imman Adan and Katie Heindl discuss what Katie learned from a team staff member with regard to team spirit this season. Watch the full episode on our Yahoo Sports Canada YouTube channel or listen on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed.

Video Transcript

KATIE HEINDL: This new concept is finally clicking for them.


KATIE HEINDL: I think I got a bit of a reality check last night, because I was chatting with some people around the team and they were saying how, if you don't pay attention to the internet, things around the team just feel so consistently good, like, even through-- even if they're, like, 9 and 10, or whatever. Even if they're still pretty middling, it feels like things are changing, which I was like, that's a good-- I mean, fans don't necessarily like to hear that, but that's a good-- it felt like a good reminder for me.

IMMAN ADAN: I like to hear that. Yeah. No, I think that's-- I think that's great to hear. And I agree with your point of, like, how the Raptors are meant to operate, which is--

And this is maybe, like, a Nick Nurse style, and they're sort of deviating from that. But I also think there are going to be elements of the way that Nick Nurse coached that you're going to see seep into Darko Rajakovic's philosophy as it continues. Because it's not like coaches have one set philosophy and are not able to change that to fit their roster.

And also, Nick Nurse's philosophy, outside of playing guys 45 minutes a night, or whatever it is, had a lot to do with the way that this team was built, right? And so we saw a lot of mismatch-hunting. Because, to your point, this team should attack guys in that way.

They've got varying skill sets, and there are going to be nights where it's just, post Siakam up a ton, because that's going to be your-- that's going to be your bread and butter. That's going to be the way that you get your points because of whoever it is that he has on him that night. Some nights, it's going to be, this is Scottie's run. Let Scottie go.

Some nights, you're going to run a ton of pick and rolls with Jakob Poeltl. There are going to be different ways to exploit whoever has the advantage on this Raptors team. That's why this team is not some-- a team that has a guy who has a 30% usage. You're going to have different guys step up on different nights, and that's how this team was built. And we're starting to see that.

But also, on the defensive end, I think part of the Nick Nurse philosophy that we started to see seep into last night's game was a lot of trapping. The Phoenix Suns are a team that have three superstars, although one of them-- of course, Bradley Beal was out. And when you build a team in that way, you don't have the same amount of depth as some other teams.

And so the Raptors, quite often, when they go up against superstar teams, at least in years past, have just trapped the stars and forced everybody else to beat them. And that's what we saw last night. We saw that a lot with Devin Booker, who struggled. Yes, he did get hurt stepping on Dennis Schroder's foot in the fourth quarter there, but he was struggling prior to that, and a large part of that was a testament to OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes. What did you see from the defensive end that the Raptors did last night that you liked?

KATIE HEINDL: Yeah, I saw a lot of that pressure and I did really enjoy it. Because, I mean, I think-- it was funny. Pregame, Frank Vogel was asked and was chatting a lot about Devin Booker's, like, new budding ability as a play-maker, and that being a role he's kind of had to necessarily step into. But I think the Raptors really took advantage of the fact that it's still, like, a very green role for him, right? And not that he completely buckled under pressure, but you got a few good-- whether they were turnovers or just kind of, I don't know, ru-- like, forced passes, kind of rushed shots out of him by capitalizing on that newness.


KATIE HEINDL: So a little bit of a psychological thing.

IMMAN ADAN: Terrible timing for an article that came out calling Devin Booker the best point guard in the league, when--


IMMAN ADAN: I think it's a great article. You guys should check it out. And he's been having an MVP-caliber season.


IMMAN ADAN: But you go up against OG Anunoby when you're having an MVP-caliber season and it will humble you quite quickly, I think.

KATIE HEINDL: It's a nice reminder. But, you know, that's the only way you get better, right?

IMMAN ADAN: That's true.

KATIE HEINDL: With maybe not-such-gentle criticism like that from OG. But I thought it was good. It's funny. Like, yesterday, I was talking to Sean Woodley on "Lockdown Raptors," and I was actually saying, is it time to give up the Raptors as a defensive powerhouse as this team identity that they've kind of been holding onto since, I'd say, championship defense season?


KATIE HEINDL: And then definitely under Nick Nurse, even though they didn't really look like that at all last season. Like, that was not their-- that was not their identity. So I thought, you know, maybe it's better for them to figure out their own new identity under Darko. What's that going to look like? It shouldn't just be a holdover.

IMMAN ADAN: That is true. But until someone can hit shots, I don't think it can be the offensive end.

KATIE HEINDL: No, it can't be.

IMMAN ADAN: It's got to be some--

KATIE HEINDL: They've got to pick something. But I think last night, you saw-- you saw how capable and, like, smart the defense could be, which is something I sort of wondered. A lot of it has to do with what you had said earlier about Scottie Barnes's confidence.


KATIE HEINDL: I think when you actually see him shine in those roles and not shy away from bigger matchups, or from kind of using his athleticism, getting in close, like, really pestering and, like, hanging onto guys--


KATIE HEINDL: --it works really well. Because he's a big dude. Same with-- I mean, OG Anunoby knows that, and he's kind of this specter that's still able to stalk around and really upset--


KATIE HEINDL: --upset offenses. So it's good to see that. Precious, it was nice to see him kind of back in that role again. Jakob, I think too, was a really nice anchor. There have been times so far this season where it seems like-- I don't want to say he looks lost, but maybe a little bit out of step--


KATIE HEINDL: --with the defense. And it didn't look like that last night. It looked like they figured out, OK, we can have a big guy on the post and we can also rotate and move things around him. So it felt fresh, for lack of a better word.

IMMAN ADAN: I like that. Yeah. And I agree. And I agree. And it.