London ball

Nurse says limiting minutes is easier said than done

VICTORIA — Fred VanVleet swears he’ll be smarter with his body and more conscientious about his playing time this season.

But Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse says that’s easier said than done. It’s a great idea – in theory.

“When you have a super competitive guy who’s playing really well, and he wants to play, rest him… just to say, ‘sorry, it’s your rest time, we don’t care what happens on the field right now, it’s your rest time,’ that’s hard to do,” Nurse said.

The 28-year-old earned NBA All-Star honors last season but logged 37.9 minutes per night. The wear and tear has been costly — he missed the Raptors’ final three regular season games and Games 5 and 6 of their first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers with a strained hip flexor.

The Raptors opened camp Tuesday at the University of Victoria, and Nurse said it was great to have 20 healthy players — VanVleet among the most essential.

Nurse said trying to manage the point guard’s minute was similar to trying to corral former guard Kyle Lowry. And with VanVleet missing 17 games last season, the coaching staff learned a lot about how to adjust to his absence.

“The hardest part about it, too, is when we all sit in chairs in an office, it feels easy,” Nurse said. “Well, it’s not the same as when the ball is up and you’re in a tough game, it’s a one-point game, and you’ve got three minutes to go, and you’re like, ‘Oh , my God, he’s at 38 minutes , if we don’t take him out, now he’s going to go to 41. And we’re on the road. And it’s a one-point game in Miami. It’s kind of like real life that’s different from the fact that we’re all standing here without the heat of battle, or sitting in our offices without the heat of battle.

“But the point has been brought to my attention,” he added with a laugh.

VanVleet is entering the third season of a four-year, $85 million contract, but is eligible to sign an extension beginning Oct. 17.

“I will just say that I love being a Raptor,” VanVleet said at Monday’s annual media day. “I have a great relationship with management, ownership, coaching staff. There’s nothing I can really complain about being on this team. But I’m not going to talk about contractual stuff, so you’ll know when it’s time to find out.

“I’m happy with where I am and I think it’s mutual love.”

Raptors President Masai Ujiri spoke enthusiastically on Monday about the native of Rockford, Illinois – “Mr. Bet on yourself” – who was not drafted, but fought his way into a roster spot in training camp in 2016.

“Whether now or later, Fred is dear to us,” Ujiri said. “I hope we will figure it out.”

VanVleet averaged a career-high 20.3 points with .403 shooting, 6.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds last season.

He admitted that amid the excitement of the Raptors’ stretch run last season – they finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and led Philly to six games in the first round of the playoffs – he ignored his body.

“I absolutely had to listen to my body,” he said. “We lost and I had to go to the doctor and all those things to plan the rest of my summer. I had to get stronger. I had to make some changes and I did those things, and I feel good.

Nurse sees VanVleet playing the ball a lot this season, a luxury the Raptors have with their versatile roster.

“That’s where we saw again, the change of Scottie (Barnes), Pascal (Siakam), even OG (Anunoby) probably, which kicked it up a notch,” Nurse said. “I like that you (the media) know that I like that. Because it puts these guys in not necessarily open ground situations, but in moving defensive situations.

“And you have Freddy and Gary (Trent Jr.), some of these guys on the perimeter are ready to shoot…so that’s a good way to create an early offense.”

The Raptors end camp with an open scrum on Friday, then fly to Edmonton to take on the Utah Jazz to open the preseason on Oct. 2.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 27, 2022.

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