The Raptors resumed practicing Sunday after taking Saturday off, and has become the norm, sent some folks out to chat with the media via video conference after practice wrapped.
I’m quite enjoying these Zoom media availabilities. The players in particular seem a little more comfortable and at ease than they do in usual post-practice scrums — I wonder if the physical distance provided by video conferencing, rather than having a dozen people in your face trying to get your attention, actually puts them a little more at ease?
In any event, we heard from Nick Nurse, Matt Thomas and Pascal Siakam yesterday, so let’s get into it:
1. Nick Nurse: “I’m a good candidate, having lived in four different countries and not exercised my own right to vote enough over the years”
Nick Nurse was one of voices participating in the Raptors’ PSA about absentee voting, and that’s him explaining part of his reason why. It’s a very simple, straightforward ad — the most effective kind! — simply stating what you need to do to vote. It doesn’t fall on any side or lean right or left. According to the ad there are more than 650,000 US citizens living north of the border; that’s not an insignificant number!
Voting, voter turnout and vote suppression is clearly an important issue to the NBA and its players; we’ve see LeBron James start a voter rights initiative, “More than a Vote”, encouraging Americans to get out and vote and perhaps more importantly, to understand their rights as voters and understand how certain groups and elements want to make it harder for other groups to have their votes counted. Hopefully it helps get the message across; I too find it disappointing, and frankly alarming, when I see low voter turnout numbers, both in Canada and the U.S., and when people in power seem to want to keep those numbers low, well, that’s the exact opposite of democracy. As always I’m impressed and proud that the Raptors are speaking up.
2. Matt Thomas: “It’s a lot different... we’re preparing for a playoff push”
Thomas, who appeared in the aforementioned PSA, also talked about the importance of getting the message out that Americans living outside the U.S. Beyond that, Matt talked about the difference between this “restart” training camp and the “regular” training camp back in the fall, where in the latter, the team preparing for a long grind, but now, in the former, they’re keenly focused on one goal. He said the biggest difference is that many players didn’t have access to a place to play, and/or couldn’t play beyond doing shooting drills or individual workouts, during the pandemic, and so the focus so far has been on conditioning. Thomas said that the team hasn’t had a full five-on-five yet, but also praised the NBA for giving the teams enough time to get back into shape before jumping into games.
3. Pascal Siakam: “Making better reads, knowing that you’re going to get the attention, and knowing when to be aggressive and when to defer”
Pascal Siakam was asked what he’s been looking out for in terms of improvements, specifically when it comes to playmaking. I actually think Siakam’s already made great strides in this area; I don’t feel like he forces things very often, and he seems to be a willing passer. One thing I do think I’d like to see a little more of from Pascal, is a little more decisiveness when he’s isolated with the ball; I remember complaining about this at length when Chris Bosh was here: the Raptors would run some action to get Bosh isolated with one defender 18 feet from the hoop, Bosh would get the ball, face up, and then... he’d stand there. And the defense would have time to re-set. And by the time Bosh made a move the defense could easily collapse and recover.
I feel like I’ve seen a little bit of that “over patience” from Siakam this year as well, and it’s something I hope he eliminates.
4. Siakam: “It shows commitment, and it feels good to have them around”
That’s Pascal talking about the presence of Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster in Orlando. Those guys didn’t have to be there; they didn’t need to be away from their families or take the risk of going to Florida, aka COVID Central, and they can likely continue to do their primary jobs from just about anywhere, so I would imagine that it does feel good for the players and staff to see the people at the top taking the same risk.
Beyond that, Pascal said it was good to have them there to raise issues with or bounce things off, and that’s another fair point; if something isn’t right or going foul, knowing that you have Masai and Bobby there to fight on your behalf has to make you feel pretty good.
And hey, speaking of Masai...
5. Masai Ujiri: “We the North, baby”
Team President Masai Ujiri gave the Raptors video crew a brief tour of their hotel setup, and as always, the Raptors have gone above and beyond to make the place feel like... well, not home, because I don’t think the players have Raptors logos or the Toronto skyline splashed all over their homes! But it does have a cohesive, team feel, a togetherness, that you wouldn’t normally get in a hotel on a road trip. It’s not just a hotel, it’s the Raptors hotel, you know? They’ve made it theirs. That sort of attention to detail, to the little things, makes a difference, and I’m sure the Raptors appreciate it.
Once again it seems clear the Raptors are doing everything they can not just to perform on the court, but to make their players and staff feel safe and comfortable, and to continue elevating important messages. I’m still very uneasy about the NBA doing this at all, but I am impressed with Toronto’s approach.