The winds of change have finally swept through the Toronto Raptors‘ roster permanently. Media access was granted to the team on September 27. It means training camp is here. Members of the new-look squad spoke to the media, like general manager Bobby Webster, players Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Goran Dragic.
What was extremely different is that for the first time in nine years that media access to the team didn’t include Kyle Lowry. The leadership of the team on court falls to VanVleet and Siakam organically, as well as any other player who emerges as a top-notch performer on this team.
In this new era of positionless basketball, a philosophy or style of play that the Raptors’ management and coaching staff are preaching, VanVleet may have an even tougher task in replacing the irreplaceable Lowry.
While the once undrafted understudy of the GROAT claims to be ready, and that swagger was one of the highlights of Media Day, it was also interesting that on Monday another former NBA point guard was officially added to the sideline.
The Raptors picked up Earl Watson, a diminutive point guard who played 13 seasons in the NBA from 2001-2014 as an assistant coach. He signed with Toronto in July as an assistant to head coach Nick Nurse.
Watson has been a coach in the NBA both as an assistant and head coach since 2015, most recently with the Phoenix Suns. As reported here, Suns’ star player Devin Booker recalls his affection for Watson:
"“[Earl means] everything. I credit Earl [for] a lot. He was one of the early ones in the NBA industry to believe in me to that extent. I think it started with him being my player development [coach] before he was the head coach. So he watched the work that he put in with me. He was on the court with me, sweating with me, putting in the work with me and just coincidentally happened that he ended up being the head coach.”"
Toronto Raptors coach Earl Watson could help Fred VanVleet improve.
Should a bond of mutual respect and trust form between Watson and VanVleet, as it did for Watson and Booker in Phoenix, 2022 could be a special year for VanVleet. He has upped his scoring every year in the league and shot the three at 40% or better three of the last four years.
A steady increase in his skills and understanding of the game (already at high levels) only means great things for the Raptors.
All VanVleet has left to prove is that he can lead a team and return it to its glory days which were about two years ago. Like Siakam, VanVleet is now a player the franchise will rely on or depend on. Still, When you are the man, who do you depend on? That is where Watson comes in with his knowledge, experience, and coaching.
VanVleet has had Lowry to help him navigate the life of an NBA point guard, and now Watson is joining the fray. Watson’s advice may be invaluable as VanVleet will have to guide the Raptors for a month to start this season without Siakam, who is still rehabbing a shoulder surgery.
While Watson might not have had the best record as a head coach, his record as a developer of backcourt talent stands out, and an assistant focused only on guard play might be the perfect role for him in the NBA. VanVleet’s big issue last year was his efficiency, and the combo of Watson and new assistant Trevor Gleeson could help him fix that flaw.
VanVleet who averaged 19.6 points and 6.3 assists in 2021 will take the lion’s share of the responsibility of replacing Lowry’s immense departure. For his part on Monday, VanVleet when asked by Doug Smith of the Toronto Star “how things feel around the team without Norman Powell and Lowry?” VanVleet stated the following:
"“Excited. There’s always a challenge every season…with players not being there from the year before…So we’ll try to pick up the slack that he (Lowry) left behind.”"
In the meantime, Watson is available armed with a wealth of experienced point guard knowledge VanVleet can access readily. Lowry may be in the franchise’s rearview mirror, but it’s VanVleet driving the Raptors car with Watson helping navigate from the passenger seat.