By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press on January 24, 2024.
TORONTO – A new-look Toronto Raptors team means turning a three-day break into a mini-training camp.
The Raptors have introduced five new players to their roster in the past month, trading for Canadian RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Bruce Brown, Jordan Nwora and Kyra Lewis Jr. in two deals with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers.
Head coach Darko Rajakovic said on Wednesday that the mini-camp includes the “Raptors 60,” which is 60 minutes of work before the actual practice begins.
“For some of the new guys it was like “˜what is this?’ so introducing them to that was very important,” said Rajakovic, standing courtside at OVO Athletic Centre. “Also practice today was around an hour 10, hour 15.
“We were able to do a lot of stuff offensively and defensively, we played live at the end as well just to get those guys acclimated.”
Forward Scottie Barnes, who has become the focus of Toronto’s offence since Pascal Siakam was traded to Indiana, said “training camp 2.0” is less about learning offensive and defensive schemes and more about getting to know new teammates.
“I feel like these guys, they already know how to play basketball,” said Barnes. “They know how to blend in and fit themselves into the system.
“It’s pretty much just learning each others’ games and growing from there.”
The quasi-camp was made possible by a quirk in the schedule. The Raptors lost to the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Monday 108-100 and will host Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.
Tuesday was a “blackout day” where players and coaches had the option of resting, but Wednesday and Thursday are critical preparation days. Following the game against the Clippers, Toronto embarks on a six-game road trip that starts Sunday in Atlanta against the Hawks.
Barnes said part of the introductory process is learning how to stay energetic for a full 48-minute game.
“Just learning the right way to play,” said Barnes, who was named to the United States’ 41-player Olympic pool on Tuesday. “I think last game, we got a little stagnant out there.
“Just shoring it up, fixing that and getting through it, having that mental toughness, it helps.”
Jontay Porter has been Toronto’s starting centre while Jakob Poeltl recovers from an ankle injury. The 24-year-old Porter said that the back-to-back days of practice have been helpful as he gets used to a heavier workload on the court.
“Most teams have a full six weeks of training camp to get together and learn each other’s game and all that,” said Porter. “We’ve had two days in some instances to incorporate Bruce Brown and all of them.
“Days like today are going to be really helpful for us and who knows what’s going to come with our next slate of games, our next road trip and all of that.”
Porter said he’s sure of one thing, however.
“We’ll definitely be much better teammates, we’ll be sharing the ball, learning each other’s tendencies and all that which typically leads to success.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2024.