Masai Ujiri credits unlikely source with inspiring Raptors’ ‘Vision 6-9’

Feb 12, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 12, 2022; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Masai Ujiri has built the Toronto Raptors in a way that is completely unlike any other in the NBA. Unofficially dubbed by the fans as “Vision 6-9,” Ujiri has preferred taller, versatile defenders over smaller players that might offer more short-term rewards on offense.

Ujiri is placing a ton of faith in his coaching staff. You can teach fundamentals and shooting, but you can’t teach height or length. While Ujiri had always liked players who play this way, he really leaned into this movement after witnessing an all-time great at work.

Ujiri said that the turning point in his commitment to this philosophy is the result of former Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. During a Team USA practice, Ujiri saw Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, and Andre Iguodala all using their length to great defensive effect. This moment crystallized Ujiri’s belief in length and strength.

“[Krzyzewski] told everybody to stand on the court, take their positions, and put your hands out,” Ujiri said. “They all put their hands out and he looked at the court and said, ‘who can come through this?’ Like, nobody can come through this. So, it struck me at the time, you got to have players that play both ways, and handle the ball.

“Bobby [Webster] and I talked about it and I tried to do it in Denver for a little bit, with those big players. I just believe it’s where the game is going.”

Masai Ujiri credits Mike Krzyzewski with inspiring the Toronto Raptors.

The biggest reasons that Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes was taken No. 4 overall in 2021 over the expected choice in Jalen Suggs were his physical traits and endless wingspan. Later second-round picks like Dalano Banton and Christian Koloko only reinforce that desire to get longer and stronger.

Toronto’s style of play has adapted to accommodate its long-limbed youngsters. While most NBA teams are shooting as many 3-pointers as possible, Toronto has constructed a unique defense that prioritizes getting as many turnovers as possible.

On offense, crashing the offensive glass and getting more possessions than the opponent is paramount.

What Ujiri and Nick Nurse are ultimately hoping happens is that some of their physical marvels end up becoming efficient offensive players. Siakam and DPOY contender OG Anunoby show that those coaching staff can accomplish that goal, and it’s on names like Barnes and Koloko to follow in their footsteps.

While it remains to be seen if the Raptors can win a championship by going all-in on this philosophy, but Ujiri has shown he can build a roster that makes Toronto consistently competitive despite the fact they are not a big free agent destination. Time will tell if this ends with a second Larry O’Brien Trophy.

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