The Raptors defensive approach is still very much about the deflections and creating turnovers, but in terms of straight steals and the defensive gambles they were willing to take a year ago to get those steals, well, those things aren’t quite as tolerated in Darko Rajakovic’s schemes.
That was a message from Rajajkovic as the team arrived back in Toronto following a full week in Vancouver where they held training camp working on both a new offence and defence while hosting an exhibition game against Sacramento.
After a slow start to that game with just two deflections in the first quarter, the Raptors went to work on Sacramento using their length and athleticism on defence to disrupt the Kings potent offence deflecting 13 balls in the second quarter and then 16 more in the second half to pull away from coach Mike Brown’s Kings.
Rajakovic knows the team he has is built to disrupt but does not feel it has to take the kind of risks it did a year ago to be successful disrupters.
Rajakovic prefers to take away the risk and still get the reward. So you won’t see Jakob Poeltl, for example, leaving the rim he’s protecting to catch an unaware ball handler coming around a screen. Instead that ball handler will be harried and hassled by the Raptor guard defending the perimeter with perhaps a dig or two from the forward defending the rolling big. And should he come through all that unscathed, he’ll still have the 7-foot Austrian to shoot over or allude to get to the basket.
Like his predecessor Nick Nurse, Rajakovic sounds keen to see a target number for each night, even if he and his staff haven’t settled on a realistic one just yet.
“We’re still looking at our team and where we need to be,” Rajakovic said when asked for a number of deflections he targets a night. “We’re playing around (with) that number. And in this game we had 31 deflections and our goal, something that we’re going to try to achieve in every game is going to be around 32 deflections.”
Rajakovic said the league average is nowhere close to that number, but as mentioned he knows this team is built just a little different than most others and he believes the target for this club should be higher than its opponents, but within its own reach.
“Our length and our speed and just our aggressiveness allows us to do that,” he said. “So that’s something definitely that we’re going to focus on.”
O.G. Anunoby led the league in steals a season ago. In fact three Raptors were in the top seven in steals with (off to Houston) Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. joining Anunoby among the elite in that category, but Rajakovic seems content to forego those opportunities and focus on the deflections instead.
“For me, deflections are not necessarily part of gambling,” he said. “It’s how we pressure the ball. It’s how we’re guarding DHOs. It’s our active hands in pick and rolls. It’s not necessarily going all out and just to try to go for steals. We’re not going for steals. We’re going for deflections and those are coming inside our team schemes.”
Offensively, meanwhile, Rajakovic stresses the pass and pace. He wants the ball moving quickly from player to player as the Raptors hunt down the best shot. He acknowledges that this is likely to forego another strength this team enjoyed last year, that being a superior ability to protect the ball and avoid turnovers.
Turnovers are the cost of a high-passing team and that’s a cost Rajakovic is willing to pay.
“San Antonio, when they were winning championships, they were in the middle of pack with turnovers,” Rajakovic pointed out. “They were not the best or the worst, but they were in the middle of the pack. Same thing with Golden State (more recently). So we want to be able to move the ball and occasionally it’s going to come with some cost.”
It’s certainly not the way the Raptors did things a year ago but done with confidence, it gives the Raptors a good chance to improve on last year’s standing not to mention its showing in the earliest part of the post-season.
ON THE INJURY FRONT
Neither Precious Achiuwa (strained groin) nor Otto Porter Jr. (coming back from a broken toe) were in the lineup for Sunday’s game, but those absences could be short-lived.
Achiuwa, according to Rajakovic was doing and feeling much better than he had been in Vancouver where he sustained the groin strain late last week. He was able to get on the Toronto’s OVO practice court Wednesday and take part in a few things.
Porter Jr. meanwhile, who has not played a game with the Raptors since last November, took part in some three-on-three drills. The team is cautiously optimistic that Porter Jr. can get into some exhibition games before the regular season tips off.
Centre Christian Koloko, meanwhile, continues to deal with respiratory issues. The team is giving no indication of a possible timeline for his return to the court.
Recommended from Editorial
As first steps go, consider the Raptors on the early path to repair after pre-season win
Toronto Raptors’ first-ever head coach Brendan Malone dead at 81