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Raptors reward OG Anunoby for his ability to fill any role –



Teams that win titles have superstars; NBA tradition would tell you.

But they also have players that are superstars in their roles, which is how Tristan Thompson used to characterize himself when he was doing the dirty work on behalf of LeBron James as the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to four straight NBA Finals and won a championship in 2016.

Without the right kind of role player in the right positions, you aren’t winning anything either.

Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby probably won’t end up being a superstar — the kind of player that teams run their offences through and build their franchises around.

Stranger things have happened but the chances of the 23-year-old suddenly — or even gradually — more than doubling the sparse amount of time he spends with the ball in his hands seems unlikely, even if his skills are clearly progressing.

But that doesn’t make the news that Anunoby and the Raptors reached an agreement on a four-year extension — with a player option for the 2024-25 season — for $72 million any less significant than any of the other deals the team has reached with its key figures in recent years.

It might even end up being more important. He’s already a superstar in his role, the kind of player that can be plugged into any winning rotation in the league and make a positive — and often critical — impact.

At six-foot-eight and 230 pounds he’s proven to be a defensive unicorn — big and strong enough to credibly guard most NBA big men and nimble enough to discourage point guards. And in between, he has shown himself to be as formidable a defender against the league’s alphas that dominate the game from the wings.

No single player stops LeBron James or makes Kawhi Leonard disappear or holds down James Harden — it always takes a team approach.

But without someone that can do enough damage on the ball against the league’s most dangerous players, even the best-laid defensive schemes get blown up.

But what makes Anunoby special was that even while switching through every position on the floor he was still one of the league’s stingiest defenders in isolation situations — just him along against a ball-handler.

According to NBA player tracking data Anunoby ranked 12th in the league in points per possession given up as an isolation defender while holding opponents to just 27 per cent shooting, good for sixth in the NBA.

It’s the kind of play that all-defence team selections are based on.

The eye test is pretty revealing too, as the long-armed Anunoby increasingly showed signs of being able to bully teams defensively, such as when he made six and then seven steals in back-to-back games against Charlotte and Denver, the latter coming while posting a career-high 32 points.

Both outings came during an 11-game stretch before the restart when Anunoby averaged 13.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals a game while shooting 56.9 per cent from the floor and 44.7 per cent from deep. He then went 8-of-9 from the floor against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Raptors’ first game of the restart and provided one of the franchise’s all-time highlights with his catch-and-shoot game-winning triple to win Game 3 in the second-round against the Boston Celtics. Down 0-2 at the time, the Raptors were able to push Boston to a seventh game.

Did he think the shot was going in?

“I don’t shoot to miss,” he said, in his trademark less-is-more manner of speaking.

For all of those reasons Anunoby’s deal already can be described as team-friendly, particularly given some comparables.

The Detroit Pistons gave 26-year-old Jerami Grant $20 million a year as a free agent in the off-season and fellow class of 2017 draftees Jonathan Isaac got $80 million over four years in Orlando while the San Antonio Spurs rewarded Derrick White with a four-year deal for $73 million.

The Raptors wouldn’t trade Anunoby for any of them.

Not that it’s bad business for Anunoby. He missed most of his last college season at Indiana with an ACL tear and missed the Raptors championship run after complications from appendicitis in a year marred by the sudden passing of his father.

There is never a bad time to accept millions of guaranteed dollars and Anunoby can be a free agent at 27 years old when the league’s revenues will have (presumably) rebounded after the pandemic.

But the Raptors can look ahead confident that even if Anunoby provides two-way production mirroring what he did in his third season they’ll have a key role filled on a decent contract.

And they did it without significantly eating into the cap space they are determined to preserve for the summer of 2021 so they can add talent in free agency or by way of a trade. Anunoby’s cap hold was on the books for $11.6 million and the first year of his deal clocks in at $16.1 million meaning they only cost themselves about $4.5 million in cap space.

They should still be a player in the market, in other words.

Meanwhile, they can dream on Anunoby’s upside — both as a smarter and more experienced defender and as an offensive player who has shown flashes of being more than simply a catch-and-shoot option. If Anunoby makes progress on both ends the Raptors will have a steal of a deal and Anunoby will be setting himself up for an even bigger payday down the road.

The Raptors may not have the A-List superstar that drives championship teams, but in Anunoby they have the kind of role player that superstars can’t win without.

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Andreescu's coach among positive COVID-19 cases forcing Australian Open players into quarantine – CTV News



Bianca Andreescu’s coach, Sylvain Bruneau, has tested positive for COVID-19, one of three confirmed cases that have forced 47 Australian Open players into quarantine ahead of the tournament.

The three positive cases, including Bruneau, were detected among charter flights carrying players, coaches and officials to the Australian city before Saturday’s tournament.

Despite following all of the safety protocols, including receiving a negative test result within 72 hours before his flight, Bruneau said he tested positive shortly after arriving in Melbourne.

“I am deeply sorry to share that I have just tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival here in Melbourne, after travelling from Abu Dubai on flight EY8004,” Bruneau said in a statement issued Saturday, noting he felt fine when he boarded the plane.

“I also respected and followed all COVID protocols and guidelines while in the Middle East. I have no idea how I might have contracted this virus.”

Andreescu has yet to comment on her coach’s diagnosis but has tested negative for the virus.

Three coronavirus cases have now been detected among flights carrying tennis players, coaches and officials ahead of the Australian Open.

A total of 47 players from two affected flights – one arriving from Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi – are now in a strictly enforced 14-day quarantine without the ability to leave their hotel rooms, even to practice.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley issued a statement saying the 24 players who were on the flight from Los Angeles would not be able to leave their hotels rooms for 14 days and until they are medically cleared.

“We are communicating with everyone on this flight, and particularly the playing group whose conditions have now changed, to ensure their needs are being catered to as much as possible, and that they are fully appraised of the situation,” Tiley said.

It’s unclear how serious Bruneau’s case is.

“I am extremely saddened and sorry for the consequences now on everyone’s shoulders sharing my flight,” he said. “The rest of my team is negative and I sincerely hope that any further disruption is kept to a minimum.”

The Australian Open is scheduled to start Feb. 8.

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SENATORS AFTERTHOUGHTS: A closer look at the Senators' 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs Friday – Ottawa Sun



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Game One: Senators 5, Maple Leafs 3

WHY THEY WON: The young and rebuilding Senators sent a loud message to a veteran-laden Maple Leafs squad that should have known better.

The Maple Leafs were flashing their considerable talent and had the Senators on their heels throughout the first half of the second period, breaking a 1-1 tie on Alexander Kerfoot’s goal.

Apparently, they thought they could coast to victory from there.

Guess again. Led by Brady Tkachuk, the Senators came off the ropes, rallying for three goals in a 4:35 span to close out the second period.

Maple Leafs goaltender Fredrik Andersen certainly didn’t have his best night, swimming around his crease for much of the game, but he didn’t have much help when the Senators cranked up the pressure.

In the final period, the Senators effectively shut down a Maple Leafs squad that couldn’t regain its edge and was guilty of backing up and coughing up the puck against the Senators pressure.

It’s only one game, of course, but the Senators set an example that they will battle their way to the end.

Goaltender Matt Murray was solid in his Senators debut, not panicking when the Maple Leafs were threatening to run away with the contest.


Senators winger Brady Tkachuk: “We want to win games, we want to be a playoff team and we want to keep learning from the mistakes we made. We want the two points every night. That’s our goal and I think the pace of play and the physicality is going to determine that.”

Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe: “When you score a goal like that (Kerfoot) and you have control over the period the way that we did, for us, if we want to be a team that is going to accomplish anything, the game should be over from there. We should be able to take care of the lead and build on the lead. Obviously, it showed that we are not there yet.”

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Bianca Andreescu's coach announces positive test – TSN



Sylvain Bruneau, the coach of Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu, said Saturday that he tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open.

In a four-paragraph statement, Bruneau said he followed all safety protocols and procedures, tested negative within 72 hours of departure, and felt “perfectly fine” when boarding the plane in Abu Dhabi.

“I am extremely saddened and sorry for the consequences now on everyone’s shoulders sharing my flight,” he said. “The rest of my team is negative and I sincerely hope that any further disruption is kept to a minimum.”

Andreescu will now begin a 14-day hard quarantine at her hotel, her agent, Jonathan Dasnieres de Veigy, told The Canadian Press in a text message.

Australian health authorities said two positive COVID-19 cases emerged from another charter flight to Melbourne from Los Angeles earlier Saturday. Those cases involved an aircrew member and a passenger who was not a player.

A total of 47 players from the two affected flights will not be allowed to practise until they’re medically cleared after the two-week period, Tennis Australia said. Original plans allowed for on-court training sessions in a bubble setting during the quarantine period.

Andreescu was planning to return at the Jan. 31-Feb. 6 Melbourne Summer Series, a warmup event ahead of the Australian Open. It will be her first competitive tournament in about 15 months.

In his statement, Bruneau said he respected and followed all COVID protocols and guidelines while in the Middle East.

“I have no idea how I might have contracted this virus,” he said.

Bruneau, a longtime national coach with Tennis Canada’s women’s program, helped guide Andreescu during her breakout 2019 season.

Just 18 at the time, she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in March of that year for her first career WTA Tour title. Andreescu won the Rogers Cup and US Open titles later that season, topping American legend Serena Williams in both finals.

Injuries, however, were a problem throughout the campaign and hampered her return plans in 2020. She eventually decided to take last season off and focus on coming back for the 2021 Australian swing.

A pair of WTA Tour 500 events — the Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic — will run as part of the Melbourne Summer Series, with players being divided into the two events.

Given the short turnaround from the end of quarantine, it wasn’t immediately clear if Andreescu would still play that event or instead return at the Feb. 8-21 Australian Open at Melbourne Park.

Andreescu, from Mississauga, Ont., hasn’t played a competitive match since a left knee injury forced her to retire from a match at the WTA Finals in October 2019.

She started the 2019 season ranked No. 152 in the world and closed the year at No. 5. The 20-year-old now holds the No. 7 position.

“The positive thing is that she is obviously extremely motivated,” Bruneau told The Canadian Press in a recent interview. “She’s always motivated, so it’s not a change. But when you’re forced (off the court) and that’s your life, you want that back badly.”

Andreescu has shown in the past that she can quickly get back to a high level of play after a break.

She played just one match in a four-month span leading up to the Rogers Cup in 2019. Andreescu was pushed from the start that year in Toronto, needing three sets in each of her first four victories en route to the title.

Bruneau, who served as Canada’s Fed Cup team captain from 2010-19, received the Jack Donohue coach of the year award from the Coaching Association of Canada in 2019.

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