Raptors investing in new people, technology with hopes of improving shooting

Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby (3) shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder guard Ty Jerome (16) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, in Oklahoma City. (Nate Billings/AP)

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors were one of the worst shooting teams in the NBA last year, but they’re working on it, both in terms of technology and people.

The latest evidence was on display across the southern wall of their already pretty posh practice facilities at the OVO Athletic Centre.

Running the full length of an NBA court is a video screen — think in-arena 'jumbotron' but laid out flat rather than wrapping around in a cube to be visible from all sides — that shows or can show everything from clips from a previous game or upcoming opponent to statistical breakdowns tracking measurables like deflections, steals and rebounds on an individual game-by-game basis.

The possibilities are limitless.

As an example, rather than sit in a film room (the Raptors have a fully decked out theatre for just that purpose) and then walk-through teachings on the practice floor, the coaching staff can conduct a film session on the big screen while the players are on the floor already, and work through various nuances and details in real-time.

“I love it. It’s great,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “There’s so much up there we can do… there’s a lot of information flowing across those boards… from the last game’s footage to the next opponent footage, to a bunch of charted things we have up there. So there’s a lot of stuff we can put up there and we can definitely use it. It looks really cool, too. The players really like it.”

One of the features on display during the Raptors' first home practice of the season — before they play their second exhibition game Wednesday night in Boston — was the results of that morning’s post-practice shooting workout.

Toronto was one of the first NBA teams to invest in 'Noahlytics' the shot-tracking system created by Noah Basketball, which not only records makes and misses, but provides precise feedback on shot ark and direction, dissecting how and why shots were made or not.

Toronto’s had the system—– which uses cameras installed on the ceiling above the baskets to provide the data — for five years but showing the results of that day’s workout for the entire team to see is a new wrinkle.

On Tuesday morning the Raptors shooting at the east end of the floor converted 81 per cent of their two-point shots and 61 per cent of their three-point attempts, according to the results displayed on the board. For the group at the west end basket it was 77 per cent and 58 per cent. There was more granular data on shot arc and where precisely in the cylinder even makes were falling.

The Raptors need all the help they can get given they were 26th in the NBA in effective field goal percentage.

But is having what is effectively a massive computer screen — or collections of them — being updated in real-time on an entire wall of the gym possibly a case of information overload?

“It's pretty distracting. I'm talking to you guys and I'm not really talking to you because I'm watching over there,” said Pascal Siakam. “Like it's really distracting, but it's cool, I guess.”

But it does make it impossible not to know where you stand at any given moment in any given category.

“There’s a lot of numbers in there. But no, I think it's good,” said Siakam. “Obviously we come in here every day like this is our work [but] I think there’s a way to just give you that message without every day just talking to you… it’s just like you can glance up there and see that, man, like I had one deflection last game like maybe I should do better or whatever the case might be. So I think that is a different way to just communicate with us without being always like, ah, you know.”

It's another example of the kind of investments the Raptors are making to provide any edge possible. For a rookie like Christian Koloko, it’s eye-popping.

“Oh, I mean, it's crazy,” said Koloko, the Raptors second-round pick out of the University of Arizona. “The analytics is crazy. You know what I can see the board over there on the on the wall, it just showed us everything we do during practice, during the game, like every deflection, every rebound, assist. We got a shot tracker: every time you shoot they tell you like, how off your shot was like, like if the [arc] was 45 degrees. So we got everything, we got everything to get you better. Before every practice, after practice, I just look at it and to see if I made any adjustments from the day before."

The Raptors invest in people too — they have 11 coaches, for example, not including player development staff, and another entire staff working with Raptors 905. An interesting addition to Raptors 905 head coach Eric Khoury’s staff is Christian Siakam, the older brother of the Raptors all-NBA star. He worked informally with 905 last season and has helped with his younger brother’s training after his own college and professional career wound down.

This is his next step.

“I mean, he played basketball his whole life basically,” said Pascal, the youngest of four brothers who played Division 1 basketball, Christian among them. “He played overseas, he knows the game, he's been around pros since I've been a pro, even before… and I think that is going to help the 905 with some of the development because again, he's seen my development and he was part of that. So he understands everything, and I think it would be good for the 905, just continue to grow for him and then also helping the guys coming through there because he knows those things (that) I’ve been through, and he was a part of that just emotionally and physically. So he understands what it takes.”

Nurse is on board, too.

"The key for me, just about with anything and in particular something like this, is you kinda got to put both feet in, right?” said Nurse. “He [Christian] has been around a lot, but being around and putting both feet in and getting a full season under your belt I think will be a huge step forward for him.

"He’s familiar with working us out, he’s familiar with spending a lot of time in the gym, he’s familiar with a lot of things we do, and then he’s interested in coaching.

“Now you gotta go see if you are for real, all the late nights and early mornings, film watching and player development, all the stuff that comes with it, the grind.

“We talk about the grind of coaching, so I like it. He’s a really good dude, he’s got a great personality and, like I said, he’s familiar with what we do.”

What the Raptors are trying to do is leave no stone unturned in their search for improvement. The hope is that somehow it all comes together: that small advantages in coaching, systems and technology can accrue into more made shots when it counts, and more wins when it matters.

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