Raptors youngsters have to find their 'unagi' for team success

Several first and second year Raptors are getting a chance to play valuable minutes with a few key rotation pieces out of the lineup. Now they need to find a next level of focus on both ends of the court to help the team win games.

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: And, actually, I wanted to ask you about this is, right now, with their-- their defense, with their-- their bench, it seems like they need to achieve a level of [NON-ENGLISH]. You know [NON-ENGLISH]?

KATIE HEINDL: Mm-hmm.

AMIT MANN: A complete self-awareness with what is going on around you. Where are you with that, like, with their struggles? Do you think it's more-- is it more systematic? Or is it, actually, just like the amount of young players that they have? And them understanding how to be a pro in the NBA and the level of mental focus needed to be successful.

KATIE HEINDL: Yeah. I mean, I hope this isn't a surprise. And I hate to break it to the people that this might be a surprise for--

AMIT MANN (WHISPERING): I think it is though. I think it is.

KATIE HEINDL: --but this is the team that the Raptors have. Like, this is what the Raptors look like this season. This is what they were always going to look like. There were going to be fits and starts. There are going to be stretches that looked super discombobulated. That's what the nature of having a roster that is predominantly young players who are getting their first opportunities in a lot of these roles and responsibilities. Like, when they have to learn how to shoulder that. Learn how to manage minutes. Learn how to also just, like, get a lot of these plays under their belts.

Like, Nick Nurse is running. I don't know if you've noticed, like, Nick Nurse is just running the same place over and over and over again. I don't think that's because he's run out of ideas. I think that to a degree that is, like, it's so these guys can get it. And you see it eventually click.

But it's going to take some time. So again, like, this was always supposed to be a development year. I think any win is a bonus. But I don't know that, I think that you should set your expectations accordingly to the fact that, you know, this team wasn't going to be like a bounce. It wasn't going to be a bounce back season from last year in Tampa. I mean, frankly to me it is. Because it didn't take much to better get a bounce back from last season in Tampa.

AMIT MANN: Because it was awful, yes.

KATIE HEINDL: Yeah, exactly. Like that's a pretty low ceiling, you know. It's not that hard to-- to, like, surpass that. But I think there's going to be a lot of growing pains and there will continue to be. Like, the idea, for me, the idea is that everybody is healthy and then it's a lot easier to go through these growing pains together.

But now when you've got, you know, you mentioned like, yeah, Fred has to shoulder a lot more than I'm sure he thought he was going to have to going into the season. Pascal will, too, once he's healthy again. I think once OG Anunoby is back he'll be doing the same thing.

And then you've-- at least you've got three veterans, kind of, out there shaping things and, like, helping-- helping these guys figure it out. But to me it's not shocking I'm not really upset or, like, dissuaded by it. I think it's pretty natural and I think the team is going to keep doing this. Like, this is what the-- like, unfortunately, the season is going to look like this. I think continually, in some shape or form, for the rest of the season. They're going to figure something out and then they'll, like, mess something else up. Like, that is just the nature. That is just the nature of young teams.

AMIT MANN: It is. Currently they are-- they're a league worse when it comes to field goal percentage from 0% to three feet away from the basket. 73%. Wow. So that rim protection. That's-- that's poor defensive rotating. That's, you know, kind of, cutting corners with-- with your defense. And that's the focus that we're talking about.

Nick has kind of gotten to a point it seems like where he is just rolling out anyone who's going from the bench that's going to just provide consistent energy and focus. It's so much less now about who's going to be able to score like shot-making with any player, with any team. It's going to come and go.

But if you are locked in from the moment that you step on the floor to the moment that you leave-- for that 15, 20 minutes and we are talking about 15, 20 minutes-- because when the Raptors are healthy their starters are going to play a lot of minutes. That's-- that's how they're supposed to be. It's scary. It's Pascal. It's OG. It's Fred. Those are-- they're all going to play 35 plus. So we're talking 15, 20 minutes when you are on the floor, can you be locked in? Can you be doing absolutely everything devoted to the defensive-- defensive system? Because they're going through this every single day.

Like, I think we're all kind of wracking our brains to some degree about, oh no, it's about cutting corners here. They're allowing a lot of corner 3's. Yada, yada, yada. No, it's just-- they're not locked in. They're not focused on-- on the task.

And it is changing game by game because the teams you're facing are different game by game. So somehow weaknesses here, strengths here. And so you're making constant adjustments. And then understanding the foundation of the defense is going to help them get a better understanding of how they're going to be able to apply everything game by game. And now, it's just things are happening so fast for them and it-- they needed to get to a point where it's slowing down. And right now it's still moving way too quickly.

Tonight's a good opportunity, too. They're facing the Memphis Grizzlies as they beat them last time. No Ja Morant who is going to be out for a few weeks. Thankfully, it's only a few weeks because they've got kind of scary there for a second. I was concerned it's going to be a lot longer. We don't-- we need Ja Morant in the league, man. He's way too damn exciting. He is such a dynamic player.

Regardless of that though, this is a chance to, kind of-- kind of, put your stamp on the game. And it's like some small steps towards doing this game by game, minute by minute. We saw it against the Kings for a little while. They were very vocal on the bench. They were very excited. They were locked in. They were talking on defense.

And another thing that was so-- that was one of the hallmarks of those-- the peak Raptors was championship. That championship season and the season that followed is that their communication on defense, they were on a string at all times. And it got to a point they didn't even have to talk about it. They just knew.

And right now, there's so much-- they just lack awareness. They're-- they're lacking that communication. And talking more is another way of showing how focused you are, right? In the game, if you're talking on defense, like, we're getting back to high school stuff now.

I remember, like, my-- my high school coach, he got us to go into an auditorium and just yell out communication plays to each other, you know, like, you know, back screen coming, switch, stuff like that. Because he just wanted us to know how loud you got to say it, how forceful you got to say it, and how quickly you got to say it. Because if you're too late on it, then obviously, that's another way that a team is going to score on you.

It was a funny moment, actually, because I was, yeah-- I mean, it was just a funny, funny Amit moment from way back in my-- my youthful days. But that was a good times. Anyway, I would love to see them get to that point.

Precious Achiuwa is another one. Who-- he's so important to their offense or to their defense. But he's also one of the guilty culprits of some of their defensive rotations, and missing plays, and not closing out on shooters, and not getting out to shooters. It's that lack of-- it's not understanding where they got to be at the right time and not reading the moment is something that they're really struggling with. And I hope that they can make some progress with that and in the coming quarter of the season, you know.

KATIE HEINDL: I do know. But again, like-- like, I hate to break it to you, like, reads this is all IQ, right? And this is all, like, the-- the-- the players who are good at this have the year over year IQ. That just frankly, like, even your second year player, like Precious Achiuwa, it doesn't have-- because you [? didn't ?] have that many reps in Miami. And his role is completely different.

So a lot of this they're going to get it. And then it will seem like everything has clicked and then they will frustratingly go away. They're not going to be on a string this season. I'm very sorry to tell you. No, I don't think it's going to happen. No. I don't think it's going to happen.

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