Battle tested and road weary, the Las Vegas NBA Summer League chewed me up and spat me out. This is my second pilgrimage out to the desert for hoops but this trip was a little more special. So special in fact that I left behind my wife and fairly new child for a week in order to get a relatively front row seat to see my good pal Jon Goodwillie in action.
If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Jon is the Video Coordinator for the Toronto Raptors. This summer, however, he was the team’s Summer League head coach, a role held previously by esteemed current and former Raptors’ staffers like Jama Mahlalela and Jesse Murmuys. I was grateful to get the opportunity to chat with him about his time with the Raptors, Summer League, and Toronto’s glorious championship run.
Mitch Orsatti: Thanks for agreeing to chat with me, Jon! I was hoping you could start us out by giving a little backstory of how you came to be where you are today within the Raptors organization.
Jon Goodwillie: For sure! I started at Brock University in Sport Management and have always had a passion for sport — I played basketball and baseball in high school. I got some exposure through an internship with Ontario Basketball which allowed me to get a little more in-depth experience with the game. From there I took a couple of contract jobs and wound up landing an internship with MLSE through a contact at Ontario Basketball on super short notice doing video work. I was very fortunate to get hired out of the internship as a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to turn it into more than just experience. Once in the job, I got more opportunities in the video room and got some coaching roles that lead to the gradual process of where I am today.
MO: You’re a pretty tall dude at 6’8”. Do you find that your height helped you in the process?
JG: Probably a little bit as I’ve helped on the court a lot over the years with rebounding, shot contesting, and various drills with the coaches and players. It definitely helped, for sure.
MO: There aren’t many Canadian coaches in the NBA. How does it feel to be from Toronto and to be able to coach for the Raptors?
JG: It’s a huge honour anytime you get the chance to represent an NBA team, but it’s even bigger when it’s your home-town team that you grew up watching. I had a Raptors shirt before the team had any players, you know? To see the way the sport has grown up in my time with the team, from 2005-2006 when we really struggled to the last couple of years with the arrival of Masai [Ujiri], and really invigorating an already passionate fan base has been amazing.
MO: Pivoting over to Summer League. With a winning record not being wholly indicative of success at this level, what would you say you used as a head coach to measure success of the team?
JG: Winning is not the be-all-end-all of Summer League but we certainly wanted to go in and win games in order to build winning habits among our players. Being competitive and playing to win is important in setting culture, so a big focus for us is on-court success. Building on that, obviously it’s so big for the young players to get more feel for the speed of the game and for us to teach them our fundamentals and base coverages. We also like to give guys more opportunity to take on different roles on the team and be leaders on the floor more than they might be with the main team. With guys like Chris [Boucher], Jordan [Loyd], and Malcolm [Miller], it’s important for them to play well when they’re given more of an opportunity as they would be on this team and to provide cultural pieces in terms of leadership and professionalism. From an organizational standpoint, we get to take a look at guys who we’ve had an eye on since their college career or wherever they’ve played professionally in order to get an idea where they might fit within our program whether it be at the NBA level or the G League level going forward.
MO: One of the things that was implemented at Summer League this year but we didn’t see a lot of is the Challenge Rule. Could you elaborate on how you think this will be implemented at the NBA level for the upcoming season?
JG: For us, it was intriguing to want to try out but at the end of the day, if you were wrong you lost a timeout and with only having two timeouts per half, it made it really tough to use. On top of that, we never really had a moment late in the game where we really had to call it. At the NBA level, I think it’s going to be a good thing so coaches can feel like they’re getting the calls they expect, especially in a one or two possession game. This rule gives the coaches the opportunity to make sure they know that the game is being called right.
MO: One more thing about Summer League, two guys who shined pretty brightly were Dewan Hernandez and Terence Davis. What did you see from those guys that you think will translate best at the NBA level?
JG: With Dewan, one of his big keys is versatility. In the NBA, versatile bigs are so important. Night in night out you’re going to see bigs with different skill-sets whether it be pick-and-pop shooters or guys that are going to bang inside and work you over on the glass, so it’s important to have the strength to go with the bigger guys and the foot-speed to keep up with the some of the quicker guys. Dewan seems like he’s able to play against either style and he seems to have a really good motor — getting up and down the floor quick, being impactful on the glass on both the defensive and the offensive end and he just seems to be a really quick learner, as we saw growth from game to game and practice to practice.
JG: Yeah, he’s a quick study and open to taking coaching. He wants to learn, he wants to be an NBA player, and wants to be around for a long time and have a great career. Credit to our scouting staff that we were able to get someone with his capability, versatility and professional approach.
MO: And Terence?
JG: He was only with us for the last two games. We didn’t have a practice with him and to me that’s all the more staggering with how well he played. He didn’t get the same fundamental base that we put in with our early practices and he did a really nice job considering we signed him, he had to travel back to Toronto to get his physical done and then travel back to Las Vegas just to participate. He only got to do a little bit of offensive stuff in terms of our sets but he came in aggressive and looked like a guy who likes to play both ends of the floor and take the challenge of guarding the better player on the other team. He’s got a nice shooting stroke and he was really good in the last game playing out of the corner on dribble hand-off’s, back-cutting, mixing it up on defense, and he seems to have real good feet in terms of quick start and quick stop to get open. He looks to be comfortable in the pick and roll which is something we’re going to work on more this summer and it’s definitely interesting that he’s got a strength in a variety of areas and is more than willing as a defender.
MO: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the incredible special championship run from last season before I let you go. What are some of your personal highlights and what were some of the toughest adjustments during the playoff run?
JG: In terms of adjustments, with the Philly series it seemed like we would try something and it would work for a game or two and they always had a counter. With the way [Jimmy] Butler was attacking us and how we were guarding [Joel] Embiid and [J.J.] Reddick, it just seemed like there were more adjustments. With the Milwaukee series, we didn’t make a ton of major adjustments we just got better at guarding them and executing our game-plan as it went on. And it showed. One of the real highlights within the adjustments was the calm among our players being down 2-0 and going home. There’s no doubt that no one was happy about it, but there was no one who thought that series was over by far. We thought we let one get away in Game 1 a little bit and didn’t play that well in Game 2, but if we went home we felt like we would be able to work the series back towards our favour. A series can change in one game, you know? No matter what lead you have, if you come out and win the next game, the pressure kind of shifts a little.
For personal highlights, there’s just something about this team that the people of Toronto and Canada really fell in love with and we were so close over the last couple of years. This year, to see and feel how the city feels about the Raptors through all the jerseys and hats and shirts in the streets after we’ve won has been a wild ride. After Game 6 in the Milwaukee series, I drove my car out of the arena and the ramp that leaves Scotiabank was lined with at least a thousand people. I rolled down my window and I was high-fiving people as I pulled up to the red light and just seeing the reaction from the city and fans was special. Then after the final buzzer went in the Golden State series and we were on the court, my wife was able to join me on the court and it was such a huge moment. She does so much to support me and our family as we have a young child and I’m away a lot travelling with the team and to be able to share that with her was extra special. The full circle of it all was the parade with just the mass of people. I couldn’t believe how many people were at each intersection as we got closer to City Hall. At University and Front, you know it was incredible. Then Wellington. Then King and it just got more and more unbelievable as you’re seeing people in office buildings and construction sites and pulled off on the side of the road on the Gardiner watching and taking pictures. It was truly an incredible moment.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)