The Toronto Raptors find themselves in unfamiliar territory approaching the 2021 trade deadline. Currently 17-26, 11th in the Eastern Conference and on a nine-game losing streak, the Raptors can no longer look themselves in the mirror and see a competitive team. Instead, for the first time in a very long time, they need to consider the future.
Not the future, future. The Raptors still have a relatively young core in Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby — one good enough to be competitive again as soon as next season with the right supporting cast around them. Those three are signed for three more seasons, and in the always-changing modern NBA, that means the competitive window is the next three seasons, so Toronto would be smart to stay young while building a competitive roster that fits around that core.
Enter Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft who, despite all the gossip that follows him, is having a career season with the New Orleans Pelicans. Ball is averaging 14/4/6 on 43/39/77 shooting, efficient but not eye-popping numbers that mean more when you consider that he is doing everything asked of him a Pelicans team that plays slow, has bad spacing, and uses Ball primarily off-ball as a spot-up shooter.
Ball is a 6-foot-6 point guard who can defend multiple positions and shoot the three, yet the Pelicans and him did not agree to a contract extension ahead of the season, meaning he will hit restricted free agency this offseason. Plus, Ball’s (loud) father Lavar recently remarked that Lonzo “can’t stand New Orleans,” Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that the Los Angeles Clippers were inquiring about Lonzo ahead of the deadline, and Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reported that the Pelicans are looking for “at least one good first-round pick or young player” for Ball. That is all to say: Ball could be had, for the right price. The Raptors could likely get there by sending Powell to a third team (like the Grizzlies, Hawks, Mavericks, or Hornets), who send their draft pick to New Orleans and Ball to Toronto. Or they could construct a deal around Chris Boucher (and Malachi Flynn), a potentially nice fit beside Zion Williamson in New Orleans.
While we don’t know what will happen with Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline or beyond this season, we know that the Raptors need a guard to grow beside VanVleet in the backcourt (Flynn does not project to be a starter anytime soon). Fortunately, VanVleet has proved that he can play either on or off-ball, opening up more possibilities for his backcourt partner. Maybe you think that partner should be Norman Powell, who is also having a career year and is already on the Raptors. But at only 23 years of age, Lonzo is a higher upside prospect who would fit in nicely beside VanVleet on both sides of the floor.
It starts with the defence. Ball is already a significantly better defender then Powell, and while he can defend on or off ball, his biggest strength on that end of the floor for the Raptors would be his off-ball defence, especially because VanVleet is one of the best point-of-attack defenders in the league.
Ball is a high-IQ player with quick enough instincts to make the right rotations, bumping the big man off his spot or jumping passing lanes to come up with 1.3 steals and 2.5 deflections per game, both among tops in the league for his position. Ball is also strong and agile enough to defend one-through-three, so he could switch on-ball actions with VanVleet similar to how Lowry does now. Crucially, Ball manages to keep his man in front of him consistently, not allowing dribble penetration so that the defence can stay set instead of entering a scramble situation, something the Raptors have done far too much this season. His block rate, steal rate, and foul rate all rank in the 70th percentile or better for his position this season.
The other thing Ball does extremely well on the defensive end is rebound from the guard position, which is increasingly important when playing beside a 6-foot-0 point guard in VanVleet. Anyone who has watched the Raptors this season knows how big of an issue rebounding has been, and Ball, who has a career defensive rebounding percentage of 15.4 (6.4 rebounds per game), would immediately alleviate the problem.
Plus, it’s not just that Ball would be a great fit beside VanVleet in the backcourt as an off-ball defender and rebounder — he would also be a great fit for Nick Nurse and the Raptors’ system. In fact, his style aligns perfectly with how Nurse and the Raptors like win: on the back of their defence, by forcing steals and playing in transition.
Ball is at his best when playing fast. He grew up in a basketball ecosystem in Chino Hills where he and his brothers learned the art of the outlet pass and how to make good decisions with a head of steam. In fact, Ball’s best skill is his ability to play in transition, and he is like Lowry in that he can turn steals and defensive rebounds into transition opportunities with go-ahead passes or by taking the ball the length of the court himself. Unfortunately, the Pelicans prefer to play slow and don’t use Ball to the best of his abilities, with only 18.7 percent of his offence coming in transition for 0.93 points per possession. Still, they are more effective in transition with Ball on the floor due to his rebounding and playmaking.
In the half court, Ball would present another creator to play alongside VanVleet, taking turns with VanVleet and Siakam to run the offence. Ball has already taken strides as a playmaker in the half court, with 22.2 percent of his offence coming as a pick-and-roll ball-handler this season, scoring 0.98 points per possession, which ranks in the 76th percentile league-wide. He also has a career-low turnover percentage of 13.7 on career-high usage of 19.6 percent (and 24.1 assist percentage), but he still has room to grow when it comes to creating good looks for his teammates. Put him in Toronto’s development system alongside good shooters (the Raptors prefer to play five-out at all times), and he could reach a new level as a half-court facilitator.
Ball would also immediately make an impact in the half-court as a catch-and-shoot operator. This season, 37.7 percent of Ball’s offence is coming in spot-up situations, scoring 1.19 points per possession, which ranks in the 85th percentile league-wide. Plus, if his defender closes out too aggressively, Ball is smart enough to attack the paint or make the right read consistently, moving the ball quickly to find an open shooter.
It’s no wonder the Pelicans are +10.9 points per 100 possessions better with Ball on the floor this season: He is an extremely smart player who doesn’t get in the way of things and plays to his strengths. A very Masai Ujiri player, if you will.
The biggest problem with a VanVleet/Ball backcourt would be that neither player is good at applying pressure to the rim, especially in comparison to Powell. Ball is somewhat hesitant to attack the rim, with just 21 percent of his shots coming there, but part of that is due to bad spacing and his improvement from behind the arc, as 36 percent of his shots came at the rim in 2018-19. He is shooting 60 percent at the rim this season, which is a career-high, and if he continues to add weight to his frame and learn how to use his size better, he should have an easier time finishing through the trees in the future.
In the short term, the Raptors offence could become even more reliant on the three-point shot, leading to even more high-variance games where the winner is decided by who hits the most threes. But Ball has never had as much space as he would have in Toronto to attack the rim, and at just 23 years of age, he has a lot of room to grow as a finisher.
Still, the Raptors would not be replacing Powell with Ball. They still would lack the type of player who can put pressure on the rim and finish there with consistency, and they would need to address that in free agency or through the draft and internal development.
But by adding a savvy defender, excellent rebounder, transition playmaker, and spot-up shooter in Ball, the Raptors would have a nicely fitting backcourt for many years to come. One with high enough upside that it’s hard to find a reason not to go out and get Lonzo Ball at the trade deadline.
Motor racing-Canadian Grand Prix cancelled for second year
(Reuters) -The Canadian Grand Prix scheduled for June 13 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal has been cancelled for the second year in a row, CBC Radio reported on Thursday although Formula One said discussions remained ongoing.
With the spread of new COVID-19 variants and Canada battling to contain a third wave of the virus, Montreal public health authorities concluded that even if run behind closed doors without spectators the risks were too high, reported the CBC.
F1 officials, according to the CBC, wanted to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine for the hundreds of staff, crew members and drivers and rely on private medical staff and have the entire operation run in a bubble.
The race is scheduled to follow on immediately from Azerbaijan, whose grand prix is scheduled for June 6 in Baku and is due to go ahead after also being cancelled last year.
“We are continuing our discussions with the promoter in Canada and have no further comment,” an F1 spokesperson told Reuters.
The Autosport website quoted a spokesperson for the Canadian promoter as saying the radio report referred to “a document of recommendations from public health.
“We as an organisation have not had confirmation from our public health officials and won’t comment until we get an official confirmation.”
Canada, with some of the world’s toughest travel rules, obliges its citizens and residents arriving from abroad to self-isolate for 14 days.
International arrivals are required to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel.
One of Canada‘s biggest sporting events, it would mark the second consecutive year the grand prix has been removed from the F1 schedule due to the spread of COVID-19.
Media reports have suggested Turkey is on standby to be slotted in as Canada‘s replacement.
The Istanbul circuit is logistically convenient for freight coming from Baku and was brought in last year also at short notice to bolster a calendar ravaged by the pandemic.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Ken Ferris)
Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now
The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.
The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 12, 2021
The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.
After acquiring Hall @ 50% & Lazar for Bjork, the #NHLBruins added $772K Cap Hit for remainder of year.
They have $24K of Projected Cap Space; $100K Annual Cap Hit that can be added, w/ 24 Active on Roster. Sending players to taxi would create more room.https://t.co/2o0hsHzUIy https://t.co/rXiRKKk3lt pic.twitter.com/I7ZRUSmSQp
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) April 12, 2021
The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.
The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.
Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.
The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.
Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.
Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca
It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.
“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.
It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.
But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.
It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.
“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”
Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.
Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.
“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”
But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.
When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.
Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.
“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.
Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?
It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.
“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.
“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”
It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.
But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.
You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.
What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.
“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?
“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”
Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.