Raptors coaching candidates: Darko Rajakovic brings lots of swagger
Amit Mann is joined by Damichael Cole of Commercial Appeal & the Locked on Grizzlies podcast to learn about Darko Rajakovic, who is reportedly being considered for the head coaching position with the Toronto Raptors. Rajakovic has been a major contributor in the development of Jaren Jackson, Desmond Bane and others on Memphis. Listen to the full episode on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed or watch on YouTube.
DAMICHAEL COLE: --means he can really-- if we're talking Toronto, there are some things he can unlock with Siakam that he's really done with Jaren, kind of in a similar sort of role there.
AMIT MANN: Oh, you're speaking my language now.
DAMICHAEL COLE: Yeah.
AMIT MANN: Keep going-- yeah, keep going. Keep going, yep, yep, yep.
DAMICHAEL COLE: We can start there. We'll start with Jaren. Then we'll get to the guys. So with Jaren, it's kind of unlocking more of that guard in his game.
You know, Jaren has the skill set, like Pascal Siakam does. He-- as a guy who had-- in Jaren's case, he's 6' 10", 240-plus pounds. Jaren has always been very fluid. But the words you hear when you think of Jaren, all the way since he was back in college, are raw and potential.
I remember once upon a time, those words were, you know, used pretty much with Siakam when he was a little bit younger, too. And I guess you could say he's more seasoned now. And that's kind of what Jaren has-- has gone in the last two seasons.
So when you talk about Jaren, there's a part of his game now where he can be the ball handler in a pick and roll. They don't do it a lot, but-- but there's certain things that he's working on there.
This year, especially towards the latter part of the season, he got a lot better in reading double teams and reads. Because that's kind of been a weakness in his game, just the playmaking standpoint of it. That's where Darko, his tutelage has really helped Jaren.
When you look at these last couple of years, but this season in particular, Jaren's 2-point percentage-- 2-point field goals was at a career high. And then just how he's playmaking off of those opportunities improved. And when I say improved, it's still not a strength of his. But there are noticeable changes where you can say, hey, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, when you get to Des and Ziaire, that's where the biggest example of Darko's influence is. So the Grizzlies do this thing-- a couple of years ago, they did it with Des. Des came into the draft.
I'm sure you remember he was basically known as a shooter, one of the top shooters in the draft. It's why he fell to the 30th pick in the draft, because no one knew this rebounding guard who's going to push the tempo, who could playmake. None of that was, I guess, strengths in his draft profile.
AMIT MANN: Sure.
DAMICHAEL COLE: Well, he gets to Memphis, rookie year, he's doing exactly, pretty much, what you think-- a lot of spot-up 3-point shooting and things like that. In the summer, he came to Summer League. Darko took him under his wing.
And it was tough. Des-- Des had what he called a lot of uncomfortable moments. And Darko just challenged him. It was a lot of times it was just those two. And--
AMIT MANN: Really?
DAMICHAEL COLE: --the emphasis was the playmaking. The emphasis was reading. And the emphasis was, hey, you need to become a better secondary playmaker alongside of Ja Morant.
So look at his numbers over the last two seasons, how he's grown. The last season, Desmond Bane really took that jump where it's like, OK, this is a really good starting two guard in the league.
AMIT MANN: Yeah.
DAMICHAEL COLE: This past season, when he averaged over 21 points basically on a bad foot for most of the season, over 4 and 1/2 assists, almost doubled his assists from the previous year. Now, there's real playmaking there.
I think he had a stretch maybe in March when Ja was out, but Ja was there for some of that stretch. He had a stretch, I think it was five, six games consecutive, where he had 20 points, five assists as the secondary playmaker. So this isn't a primary guy.
But there are situations now, especially this season, where the Grizzlies sometimes, games-- you mentioned it, when Tyus Jones starts, Desmond Bane becomes the backup point guard. They staggered them. So he starts the game at two guard. And then when Tyus goes out, he moves over to the point guard position.
And all of that is Darko. Same thing is what they've kind of tried to do with Ziaire. And it's still kind of unfolding there. Because Ziaire, again, different prospect than Desmond Bane. Desmond Bane played four years in college, came in a little bit more seasoned.
Ziaire was a 19-year-old kid-- think Ziaire's 20, just turned 21 not too long ago. So it's a little bit different on the progression. But last Summer League, the Grizzlies just threw the ball in his hands, said here.
They made Ziaire put it-- he's not going to play point guard for the Grizzlies. But again, it's the Darko influence. It's how he wants-- you talk about the pick and roll--
AMIT MANN: Yeah, just know how to read, right? Know how to read defenses.
DAMICHAEL COLE: Exactly. He doesn't want one or two guys on the floor, say hey, these are our two guys that can play pick and roll. Everyone else step out and space the floor.
He says, no, I want Ja Morant to be able to do it. I want Des to be able to do it. I want Ziaire Williams to be able to do it. I want Jaren Jackson, Jr., to be able to do it.
And Steven Adams is setting those screens, but you want the other four guys in that lineup to be able to have the ball in their hands, and be able to play on and off the ball. That's kind of one of those traits that he'll give you.
AMIT MANN: That's beautiful. I should have given a warning to Raptor fans before the Desmond Bane stuff, because that's a sour spot for fans around here, knowing that they could have had him. And that was the year that they took Malachi Flynn instead.
DAMICHAEL COLE: That's when they took Malachi Flynn, yeah.
AMIT MANN: But he comes up every couple of months, I swear. Comes up every few months that they could have had Desmond Bane. But to your point, I mean, the Raptors, like, Pascal Siakam is one point.
But players like Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, them understanding how to be secondary playmakers, because they're not always going to be on ball-- or even, like, I was looking at the Clippers. And unfortunately, they lost to the Suns. But had they been healthy, had Kawhi been healthy, I think they probably would've beat them.
And there was a moment where I'm looking at the court, I'm like, they got five guys that can run pick and roll right now on the court. That's crazy to me, man. That's crazy.
DAMICHAEL COLE: Yeah.
AMIT MANN: And that's the future, kind of, right?
DAMICHAEL COLE: That's where we are. I mean, you want the bigs to become more versatile within today's games, because that's what we're seeing. You're seeing a lot of big men who are ball handling and things like that.
But we're also seeing a lot of dribble handoffs and things, where the big mens are pretty much at the top of the key, dribbling around. They're making these passes where guards are cutting back door, and things like that.
And Darko, again, with the Grizzlies, with guys like Jaren Jackson, Jr., and with Des from the cutting perspective, Desmond Bane and Steven Adams had a very good rapport as-- as the cutter. So I mean, he's-- he's a very big part of what this team has done.