Published On: Thu, Oct 11th, 2018

Raptors says building chemistry takes time

The process of building chemistry has been one of the big talking points of the Toronto Raptors’ preseason so far.

Offensively, defensively, mixing in the new guys; how will this tweaked Raptors team look come the season opener next Wednesday?

With the massive off-season trade which brought Kawhi Leonard (seen here on the left chatting with Serge Ibaka) to town, the Raptors say it will be a little while until they can build up some chemistry.
With the massive off-season trade which brought Kawhi Leonard (seen here on the left chatting with Serge Ibaka) to town, the Raptors say it will be a little while until they can build up some chemistry.  (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

By all accounts, the squad has started to gel. Coach Nick Nurse said earlier this week he felt the team would be “just fine” if he had to set out his rotation immediately.

But it is not like the Raptors expected to solidify their bond by the final preseason game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night. Or that everything will be seamless by the time the team tips off for real next week against the Cleveland Cavaliers. That takes more than three weeks and five games to develop.

“Chemistry kind of builds all season,” Nurse said recently. “It’s not like we say, ‘OK, it’s game one and now we’ve got our chemistry.’ I think it shifts and moves all season long.”

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There will be players in and players out, different combinations to try early on. Nurse wants to be able to take one player out and plug another in without huge shifts in play at either end.

“So far there are some things that have emerged to me that I’ve really liked,” Nurse said. “There’s not a lot I haven’t liked. There are some things that obviously have stuck out that I really like and will continue to like. I don’t think I’m done looking at combinations and I don’t think there’s going to be much of a set (rotation) to start, especially. I think there will be some different starting lineups which therefore means there will be some different second units. We’ll roll from there.”

It is a process that could involve some growing pains, Nurse admits.

“It takes some perseverance by us (not to) say, ‘Oh, that combination didn’t work’ and throw it in the bin because it was only a four-minute stretch,” he said. “You can’t just sit there and say, ‘Oh, there is enough evidence.’ The sample needs to be significant. Sometimes you want to pull the trigger on that stuff because games are coming one after another.”

A certain amount of chemistry is built up over the summer and throughout preseason, said Fred VanVleet, but without meaningful games, a squad faces little adversity. It is easy to form a togetherness and a rhythm when points aren’t on the line or a team is winning (the traditional cure-all); the challenges mount throughout a gruelling season.

“It’s all good when it’s all good and then when stuff, you know, hits the fan and things get rough or get rocky — you drop a couple or things aren’t going your way or guys have slumps, whatever else the case is — that’s when your chemistry is tested, your integrity as a player, as a teammate is tested,” VanVleet said. “Those hard times are what makes the bond, right? You can have the most dysfunctional team in the world and if you’re winning you wouldn’t know.”

Danny Green, a nine-year league veteran, said while every player and every team wants to be “perfect” and in sync by the time the season rolls around, that desire is unrealistic.

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“Nobody’s gonna be perfect, nobody’s gonna be ready,” he said. “But you want it to build up throughout the games, throughout the practices.”

Other teams across the league will be working on their rapport early in the year, just like the Raptors. Green said there is usually some wiggle room to make mistakes and still develop chemistry-wise during that time, without falling behind the pack.

He hopes to see the team hitting its stride by late November or early December, if not sooner.

“I think most teams kind of gauge where they are about 20 to 30 games in of where they are and that’s kinda where guys should feel more comfortable consistently and kind of gel.”

Laura Armstrong is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy

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Raptors says building chemistry takes time