Toronto Raptors Training Camp Update, Day 1: Nick Nurse

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Now that the hoopla of Media Day is behind us, it’s time for the real work to begin! The Toronto Raptors officially opened training camp today with their first practice, and Nick Nurse, OG Anunoby and rookie Scottie Barnes spoke to the media following their run.

Nick Nurse on Anunoby’s offense, team versatility

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse was all smiles at the podium today — it seemed like he was thrilled to be in the thick of things after the longest Raptors offseason we’ve seen around these parts in a long time. It was great to see!

Nurse started out talking about OG Anunoby and his potentially expanded role this season. We all know what Anunoby can do on defense, it’s the other side of the ball where he has growth potential — a lot of it, Nurse thinks. He thinks OG still has more moves he can add to his arsenal to be able to score, which should pair nicely with his physicality and his ability to shed defenders and finish through contact.

There definitely seems to be a bit of a spotlight on Anunoby heading into this season; with Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell gone, and everyone else outside of Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam still somewhat uneven or unproven, Anunoby is pretty clearly the team’s #3 option — and will surely be #2 while Siakam recovers from his shoulder surgery (current estimates have Siakam back in late November).

I think that’s a great spot for OG to be in. There are low expectations for the team this year, and that should give him plenty of time to grow into this expanded role.

Nurse went on to talk about the team’s versatility, and how in today’s NBA, if you want to be good, you need to be able to do a lot of things well — play up tempo or slow, play man D or zone D. Nurse seems to think this year’s roster is well-suited to playing multiple styles, and threw out a lineup of Anunoby, Siakam, Barnes, Precious Achiuwa and Khem Birch as a group that can switch a lot and cause mismatches — though he went on to say they have the personnel to play traditional guard-driven lineups as well, with VanVleet, Goran Dragic and Gary Trent Jr.

I agree with all of the above in theory, but of course, we’ll have to see it on the court to know if these players are up to the task!

Now, if you’ve been paying attention at all to the past couple of days, you knew Scottie Barnes’ name was gonna come up — he seems to be the first player on everyone’s mind. And Nurse reiterated that Barnes is bringing tons of energy, he’s vocal, and a “clapper” — the guy yelling “let’s go!” all the time. Nurse say Barnes just loves the game, and plays that way.

While I still feel like we should keep expectations fairly low — remember that Barnes was a bit of a reach at 4, and he’s going to be thrust into a very big role very quickly — it certainly seems like his attitude is in the right place.

OG Anunoby, “old but young”

OG Anunoby took to the podium after Nurse, and as always, was cool as can be. He said it was great to be back in Toronto and seeing everyone, and he talked about filling in the leadership void with Kyle and Norm gone, and how he’s both old, but young — he can still look up to a veteran like Dragic, but he can also help mentor the younger players like Barnes.

Anunoby also spoke about his new teammates, reassuring everyone that everyone on the team is smart and talented, and at this point it’s about coaching, and putting people in the best position to succeed.

Just as Anunoby was about to talk about Scottie Barnes, the Zoom call broke, so I missed what he said there — and when the Zoom call came back, OG was gone! Which means we also missed this exchange between OG and Sportsnet’s Michael Grange:

Old but young, and wise either way!

Smilin’ Scottie Barnes

After seeing Barnes — who is only 20 years old, remember — handle questions at the podium, it’s very obvious to see why this team is so high on him. He exudes happiness and excitement, but with a calm confidence that belies his age. It’s not surprising at all that the Raptors were impressed with him early on!

Barnes said that the main thing he’s working right now is getting shooting reps; he’s constantly shooting and working on his mechanics, moving his elbow closer to his body and getting the ball to come off of two fingers. As for the rest of his offensive game, Barnes says he’s comfortable anywhere on the floor, from the top of the key down to the low block.

Defensively, he likes what he’s seen from the coaching staff and the team’s philosophy; he says they’re working on filling the gaps, putting pressure on the ball, and contesting shots — in other words, he says, “being a terror” on defense. That’s what I like to hear!

As for the energy and enthusiasm everyone’s talking about, Barnes just says that’s who he is — he’s a communicator. He doesn’t find it difficult to be vocal, even though he’s a rookie — at this level you can’t be shy, or try to be cool, he says.

Speaking of cool, here’s what Barnes had to say about OG Anunoby: “Very funny guy, a cool dude who you can talk to about whatever.”

Man, I hope someone says that about me someday.

*****

It’s hard to take too much away from the first day of training camp — of course everyone is happy to be back and excited! And no one’s had time to make any mistakes yet! But again, the early takeaway here has to be the impact that Barnes’ energy is having on the team. We’ll see if it translates to the on-court product, but it definitely is contributing to a positive vibe about the team early on.