The Toronto Raptors went into Charlotte last night and beat the Hornets rather easily, it seems. I missed the game as I was attending a Christmas party (it is that time of year!) but I’ve got a few quick thoughts on the result anyway!
A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors eking out a win—their 7th in the last 8 games—over the Phoenix Suns last night…
Have Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas learned to play together?
It’s taken about 60 games combined from last season to now, but in the last 8 games, the Raptors starters have an offensive rating of 123.2 and a defensive rating of 94.2. That’s really good! Ibaka and Valanciunas together are at 118.5 and 101.4. (As a point of comparison, through the first 10 games of the season, the pairing was broke even at 114.1 on both offense and defense.
But who needs advanced stats? Just look at the old school box scores. Serge is averaging 16.6 pts and 6.4 rebounds over the past 8; JV is at 13 and 9. Perhaps most importantly has been Serge’s shooting; he’s shooting 50% from three over that stretch and averaging 1.8 blocks. On the broadcast last night, Jack Armstrong mentioned that Ibaka might finally be turning into the third player the Raptors need; I still think Ibaka’s rebounding numbers need to come up, but the improvements in his shooting and defense are making a huge difference.
I’m super pleased with Fred VanVleet’s play, but…
… is he really the best choice to be closing games alongside Lowry? I ask not because of any Fred VanVleet deficiency, but rather that I think CJ Miles or OG Anunoby’s particular skill sets might be more suited to those lineups. I know Fred is smart and a good ball handler; but Miles’ shooting is so valuable, not just for his own offense but for the way he opens up spacing for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, that I would love to see more of it.
(At least last night, Dwane Casey left JV in the game in the fourth to bang with Greg Monroe; he got great offensive rebounding position on DeRozan’s shot with 30 seconds left, and got fouled. He only hit 1 of 2, but I’m glad he was in there!)
One thing I love about FVV though, is his confidence. It never wavers. Even last night—when the officials weren’t giving him anything—he kept scrapping and going to the rim. Another great example, on one possession early in the fourth, Fred missed an open three. Jakob Poeltl tracked down the rebound, and the ball swung back to FVV in the same spot—and he took it and drained it. That’s something a lot of young players would be hesitant to do; I love to see guys unafraid to take that shot.
The Toronto Raptors bench funk continues
Has the league caught up to the Raptors bench? Is it regression to the mean? Is it just a slump? Whatever it is, the bench has let the team down in the past several games. The 5-man bench unit is a negative 25.1 points per 100 possessions over these past 8. That’s unbelievably bad. It might be time to go back to staggering Kyle and DeMar more; 4-man bench lineups with one of the two, in small sample sizes, both have positive net ratings over the same period.
I know the arguments against it, specifically the rest that’s so valuable for Kyle and DeMar. But the Raps can’t keep giving up runs to start the third and fourth like this. The “rest” that Kyle and DeMar getting isn’t nearly as valuable if they have to work twice as hard to overcome deficits when they come back into games!
Speaking of “funks,” my goodness is Norman Powell struggling
I’m worried about Norm. I love Norm. He’s been the one Raptor out of all the young’uns that I want to see succeed. His slam dunk to seal game 5 against the Pacers two years ago is one of my favourite Raptors moments. But man, he is pressing right now. He’s not making anything, either inside or out; you can see that he’s scared to shoot from the outside and scared to get his shot blocked at the rim. And as Jack pointed out last night, after every play he’s looking back at the bench waiting to get subbed out. Over this 8-game stretch I keep talking about—in which the Raptors have won 7, don’t forget—Norm is shooting 40%, 24% from three, and has a plus-minus of negative 3.6 in 15 minutes a night.
I’m not sure what the answer is. Lack of consistency has been his hallmark since his first season, but it looked like his bench role after coming back from injury this season had provided some stability. He needs to get himself back on track, and soon.
Oh, one more funk! It’s Kyle Lowry
I’m not worried about Kyle. We know he’ll be fine, and he’ll continue to be clutch when it matters. (Like last night, when his 3-pointer with three minutes left put the Raps up 6.) But, he’s 11 for his last 42 shots (and 5 of 27 from three). That’s some pretty bad shooting, folks. Hopefully being back on the homecourt turns it around. (And as always with Lowry, you know he contributes in other ways, with 6 boards and 6 assists per game over the last three.)
Overall it was a pretty ugly road trip for the Raptors, even though the came out of it 3-1. They’re back home against the scrappy Nets on Friday night, where we’ll see if the home cooking can cure what’s ailing the Raptors bench!
A few thoughts on the Toronto Raptors’ fourth win a row, a victory over the Phoenix Suns at home before heading out on the road:
That was a fun first quarter
The Raptors came out with a ton of energy, as you’d expect from a team coming off three days rest (and facing a team on the second night of a road back-to-back). They were forcing turnovers, hitting the glass, getting out in transition and moving the ball on the perimeter. They notched 10 assists on 14 field goals in the quarter. They even ran a play at the end of the quarter—a longtime bane of mine under Dwane Casey, who seems to have nothing other than “iso” in end-of-quarter situations in his playbook. It was a lovely little weave play at the top of the key where four players touched the ball, and that led to a Jakob Poeltl rim runner. (Unfortunately he missed it, and the Raps were lazy in transition and Josh Jackson scored the other way, but hey. Progress!)
Did the bench let the positive press get to their heads?
After a strong first quarter it was an unusually sloppy second, as a five-man bench unit started the quarter 0-6 and added in a handful of turnovers. They were uncharacteristically sloppy on defense as well, letting the Suns have several uncontested shots; the Raptors even gave up more fast break points than they scored (4-2) and let the Suns outscore them 12-4 in the paint! Alex Len was beasting with 9 points in the quarter. All told the Suns won the quarter by 4 and had the lead down to single digits at the half. The Raps’ starters proceeded to remind everyone that “hey, we know our bench is the tops but we’re pretty good too!” in the third, scoring 42 in the frame and pushing the lead to 18—only to have the bench let it get back to 10 in the fourth! Thankfully Fred VanVleet settled things down with a couple makes, and then Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka came back in and put the Suns away.
This might have been Serge Ibaka’s best game of the season
Perhaps the native son of the Congo was inspired on Giants of Africa night and the presence of Dikembe Mutombo? Whatever it was, Serge was great tonight; he shot 8-13, grabbed 6 boards, had three blocks and one finger wag. He finished with 19 points in 33 minutes and a plus-10 on the night. (He even added an assist!).
Let’s talk about Giants of Africa
This is one of the best things the NBA does and I’m proud that the Raptors, through their GM, are a part of it. I love listening to Masai Ujiri talk about this program; he’s so passionate about it, it’s clearly so important to him, you can hear the joy and enthusiasm come out in him whenever he speaks about it. I definitely recommend the film if you’d like to see that passion come out, and learn more about the program. And how about the halftime act last night!? It was a wonderful hip-hop dance tribute to Africa incorporating basketballs from a diverse group of young dancers; it was fantastic. I didn’t catch the name of the group—I think it was Jane’s Hip Hop Academy? Regardless, kudos to those kids, and to the NBA, the Raptors and Masai for this wonderful program.
Sure wish I knew what happened on all those techs in the third quarter!
I try not to slag on announcers too much ‘cause it’s a damn hard job. But man, it’s frustrating when Matt and Leo (or Jack) can’t accurately tell us what’s going on. Here’s the situation: DeMar fouled Devin Booker on a J, and a technical foul was called right after. Matt said it was on DeMar; a replay showed DeMar (barely) mouthing off and then giving a “who, me?” look. But then when we cut back to live action, DeMar was shooting the free throw! As Matt and Leo tried to figure out who the tech was on and what for, another tech was called. This one was on TJ Warren, and he was ejected—making it clear the first one was also on him, even though Matt and Leo never confirmed that. So DeMar shoots and hits the second free throw. But we never learned why TJ Warren was T’ed up in the first place, never saw a replay, nothing. Then a couple plays later, Markeese Chriss got a tech! But again, no replay was shown to tell us why. What the heck, SportsNet? That was incredibly frustrating.
All in all, despite some sloppy bench play, that was a satisfying Raptors win, their fourth in a row. They head west now on a four game trip starting in Memphis on Friday night!
We’re 21 games in! How about a quick check-in on the Toronto Raptors at the quarter-season mark?
The bench has been the best part of the season
This is the story of the Raptors season, to be certain. Coming in to the year it was really unclear how the Raptors would replace Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and PJ Tucker, and how the young guys would respond. So far they have exceeded every expectation.
The youth amongst that group is kind of unbelievable. Outside of bench dad CJ Miles you have a rookie: OG Anunoby. Three sophomores: Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. Two third-year players: Norman Powell and Delon Wright. A fourth-year player: Lucas Nogueira. And all of those guys were drafted by the Raptors or acquired in draft day trades. It’s pretty much unheard of to build such a solid second unit out of your own picks, all of whom came out of drafts following playoff seasons. I think we have to give Masai Ujiri, Dwane Casey and the coaching staff, and all of these young men a ton of credit.
The depth has also helped them weather minor injuries extremely well; the Raps have had a few small injuries (Jonas Valanciunas, Norm, Serge Ibaka), one potentially serious injury (Delon) and one baby birth (CJ). They haven’t missed a beat! I’ve been frustrated at times with Casey’s long bench, but I’m starting to come around; everyone can play, they can all play together (except maybe Ibaka and JV—see below) and when an injury does happen, guys fill in seamlessly. It’s enabled Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to get more rest (even at the same time), which, hopefully, will reduce the likelihood of any injury to them this year.
The new offense looks great—until the Raptors abandon it in close games
The ball movement and three-point bombing has been fun to watch, hasn’t it? They’re third in the league in both scoring and point differential (+7.3); 37% of their shots are threes (up from 29% last year) and their assist rate has jumped from 47% (dead last in the league!) to 57% (still only good for 19th, but hey…). They’re even running on occasion—7th in the league in fast break points per game. All good things!
Thing is, the old habits creep in whenever the games get close. They walk it up. The ball doesn’t get swung from side to side. It goes to DeMar DeRozan and it sticks. Everyone clears out and it’s the DeMar iso-ball show. It’s cost them a winnable game in Boston and maybe another one at Golden State. And sure, sometimes when the defense tightens up that’s all you can get… but I think the old habits are dying hard in high-pressure moments.
The Serge Ibaka/Jonas Valanciunas pairing is not working out
Serge Ibaka is not rebounding. Jonas Valanciunas is not defending. They have the two worst defensive ratings (and net ratings) on the team. It was understood when signing Ibaka that he was a better fit in today’s NBA playing centre. But the Raptors aren’t using him there enough. And the game has just passed JV by, sadly. His type of centre play just isn’t the way the game is played now. Of course, the problem is they are #3 and #4 on the Raps’ salary chart, so can you sit one of them? Maybe you don’t have to. Maybe you just sub JV out sooner (three minutes) against most teams, and bring Siakam in; and bring JV back in sooner, replacing Ibaka, to play a little more with the second unit. And against certain teams (Detroit and New Orleans come to mind) he gets more run. Poeltl remains your third centre.
Kyle and DeMar have been good, but not great
At this point I don’t know if either one of the Raptors’ all-star guards will be selected to the team this year. Both are putting up totally fine numbers but Kyle started slowly and has picked up, while DeMar started strong and has tailed off a bit (only 4.4 FTAs in the last five games). I mean, I can’t complain—the team is 14-7 and in third place, after an incredibly tough schedule to start the year. But I can’t help but feel we haven’t gotten peak play from our backcourt yet. They can’t be tired—their minutes are both down and the stretched-out schedule has meant more off days. They could be a bit banged up I guess. Or maybe they’ve finally caught some of that regular season fatigue? If that’s the case I’m gonna have pretty damn high post-season expectations, especially after their well-known playoff struggles!
Those third quarters…
I wrote about it the other day, but, the Raptors third quarters are really the only negative on the year. On the one hand, you could call those Knicks and Pacers games outliers; after all, on the year they’re only getting outscored by a point in the third. But… looking a little deeper, their net rating in the third is a negative 5.3, good for 22nd in the league; their defensive rating is 115, good for dead last. So it’s something that still needs work. Subbing JV out sooner, as noted above, may help. But mostly I think it just comes down to coming out of half-time being prepared to play, not taking a lead for granted or taking teams lightly. CJ said last week it’s all mental and I tend to agree.
Overall I’m extremely pleased with the team at the quarter-mark. The early schedule has been tough (and they’ve got another four-game west coast trip coming), to be here at 14-7 after the departures the team saw in the offseason is damn impressive. Let’s see if they can keep it up for another 61!
Image via Getty images
Five thoughts on an incredibly dispiriting loss to the New York Knicks for the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night:
The Raptors started off well…
Right off the bat Kyle Lowry hit DeMar DeRozan on an alley-oop reverse, and that set the tone, as the Raptors guards came out aggressive. DeRozan then dropped a three pointer from the wing and and ended up with 11 points in the first 8 minutes. Kyle and DeMar played the entire first quarter; it led to an 8-point advantage at the end of the frame. The Raptors assisted on 8 of 12 field goals in the frame, and the ball movement was wonderful to see. It led to a Norman Powell three point barrage at the end of the quarter—he went 3-3 from deep in his first quarter back after missing three game with a hip pointer. Then in the second, an-all bench unit held serve over for the first 5.5 minutes before Kyle and DeMar came back. The Raps finished the second quarter +3 and had an 11-point lead at the half.
….except for Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka did not figure into that first half success. He was 0-7 from the floor, and did not acquire a single rebound or assist. He finished the half with no points, no rebounds, no assists, 2 blocks and 2 fouls. He played better in the fourth (4-6) but overall, he looks like he’s forcing things; he’s not passing the ball well and doesn’t seem to be in sync with the offense. I’m not sure what the solution is. He just doesn’t seem to be brining much to the table at this point. And I’m more than a little concerned about how his contract will play out over the next three years.
I guess we gotta talk about the third quarter
When your team wins 3 out of the four quarters in a game, you’re usually in position to win said game. When you lose that one quarter by 31 points however… it becomes a different story. The Knicks just completely obliterated the Raptors in the third, using a 28-0 run to win the frame 41-10 and turn an 11-point halftime deficit into a 20-point lead. What is there to say? The Raptors were bad on defense, transition defense especially; they were bad on offense, making lazy passes, forcing 3-pointers, going on-on-one; they were bad on the glass, getting outrebounded 17-5. (Obviously you can caveat the latter by pointing out that they went 1-16 while the Knicks shot 16-24, giving the Knicks far more rebounding opportunities.) I was physically uncomfortable watching the period; it’s like watching a friend get beat up knowing you can’t do anything about it.
Tim Hardaway Jr. had his way with the Raptors in this one
Hardaway showed that he might be worth that giant contract after all. He was, frankly, awesome in this game. He played extremely hard and aggressive, bullying his way to the rim and getting after Kyle and DeMar on the other end. He finished with 38 on 27 shots, and added 6 boards and 7 assists. He also clearly fed off the crowd in the third , where he scored 12 points; he’s clearly a good fit for the Garden crowd.
Let’s look for some positives
The Raptors bench once again proved they can pick it up when the starters are off; they outscored the Knicks by 12 in the fourth… Dwane Casey was much quicker on the timeout trigger than he’s been in the past, calling two during that Knicks run (to little avail, unfortunately) and subbing out his starting frontcourt when the wheels came off… Siakam once again played solid defense on Kristaps Porzingis (8-21) and was his usual speedy (sorry, hard-running) self in transition… Norm looked good in his return, off the bench… hmm, I think that’s all I got.
They say basketball is a game of runs, and that sure was true tonight. Hopefully the Raptors washed the stink of that third quarter off in the fourth, and that’s what they’ll remember when they go into Indiana on Friday.
Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors predictably dropping their homecoming game to the Washington Wizards on Sunday night:
The Raptors were at full strength, and the Wizards weren’t… for a few minutes, anyway.
The Wizards’ John Wall, their top player, was on the shelf with a shoulder sprain; meanwhile the Raptors welcomed back CJ Miles from his stomach bug. You’d think the Raps would be at an advantage, but Kyle Lowry decided to even the matchup by getting tossed in the second quarter after picking up two technical fouls for arguing calls. You can definitely make the case that the young ref, JB DeRosa, should have had more patience with Lowry—they were about the two fastest techs I’ve ever seen, and definitely not for the worst arguing I’ve ever seen. But, he decided to flex his muscles and Lowry was done. (One of the veteran officials made it up to the Raps a little by tagging the Wizards’ Markieff Morris with a non-deserving tech two plays later).
Regardless of depth, the Wizards ran the Raptors off the court for the first 2.5 quarters
The Raptors were behind right out of the gate and it looked like a repeat of the Denver game, only this time at home, without the road or the altitude to blame. It was definitely a case of “we’re just happy to be home” as the Wizards took it to them; the Raptors were down 15 after 6 minutes, missing everything short, including free throws (6-13 in the first quarter) and getting beaten flat-footed on defense. Meanwhile the Wizards were running, hounding the Raptors’ guards and pounding the glass, and showing a ton more energy. In the first quarter they forced four turnovers that led to 10 fast-break points, and had three offensive rebounds that led to 8 second chance points.
Pet peeve alert: Dwane Casey, always late with the timeouts
I know I’m not an NBA coach so it’s easy for me to sit here and judge from my couch. But Dwane Casey always seems to be consistently one or two plays late when calling timeouts when the other team grabs momentum. And he used to work for Rick Carlisle, who’s one of the best! I think he needs to buy Gregg Popovich a bottle of wine and get Pop’s tips, because Pop’s the master of the momentum-stopping timeout.
The Raptors bench got them back in it, but Casey took it away from them
Speaking of Casey, I have to question his lineups down the stretch. The bench brought the Raptors all the way back in this one, with Fred Van Vleet leading the charge. FVV looked to be essentially out of the lineup, and deservedly so, after his poor performance so far this season. But with Lowry tossed, VanVleet got a second chance, and he made the most of it. He finished with 10 points on 5-7 shooting, and had a 6-0 run to close the third quarter and cut the Wizards’ lead to 8. Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Lucas Nogueira were all contributing on both ends, providing much needed energy and lift, enough to cut the Wizards’ 19-point lead all the way down to 3. But Casey chose to go with Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka down the stretch, and they promptly threw the game away, giving up a 12-2 run and sealing it for the Wiz. Shame on Casey for that one; his bench earned the right to close that game and win or lose it themselves.
I’m not sure how I feel about this Wizards team
On the one hand, they’ve developed a couple young projects into legit solid NBA players—namely, Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre. That’s what the Raptors are trying to do with their young guns. And you can’t help but be impressed by Wall and Bradley Beal; Beal is very much an evolutionary DeMar DeRozan. He doesn’t have DeMar’s strength and doesn’t get to the line as much, but he’s got great footwork, can get what he wants from the midrange, and he has the 3-point shot that DeMar is missing. But this Wizards team plays dirty. Watch for the little shoves in the back, the jersey grabs and the elbow hooks on rebounds. Look out for the elbows and nudges when going through the lane. And how Marcin Gortat doesn’t get called for jamming out his hip on every screen he sets, I don’t know.
Well it’s a disappointing result but one pretty much everyone saw coming. Thankfully, the 2-6 Bulls are here again Tuesday night, which should give the Raptors an opportunity to bounce back.
Five thoughts on the Toronto Raptors dropping a stinker in Denver against the Nuggets:
The Raptors were back at full strength for the first time since game 2
Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka both returned from injury, and with Lucas Noguiera healthy as well, the Raptors had their full roster available. Jonas was rusty, and mostly invisible; Ibaka, naturally, came out gunning, and airballed his first three. It was on the defensive, end, though, that Ibaka was exposed—a common theme for the Raptors on this night. Ibaka allowed Paul Millsap to score 11 straight points and picked up a foul on a MIllsap three pointer (he gave him a four-point play in the 2nd quarter as well) within the first five minutes. The Nuggets hit their first 7 shots and jumped out to a 20-10 lead—and that led to the quick hook for JV and Serge; Pascal Siakam and Nogueira came in at the the 6:17 mark. It didn’t help, as the Nuggets extended the lead to 34-19 by the end of the quarter.
This Nuggets team is an odd mix, but they can score
The Nuggets don’t start a traditional point guard (heck, they don’t even really have one on the roster) or a traditional centre (and I’m not sure what position Nikola Jokic even is) but it’s a group that works extremely well together on offense. They’re very aggressive and they move the ball extremely well—not just in the amount of passes they make, but the ball really pops when they pass it, and they cut with purpose after making passes (as Jack Armstrong pointed out on the broadcast, the Raptors have seemed oddly vulnerable on give-and-go cuts this season, and the Nuggets exposed them. Which is stunning, since that’s a basic basketball play teach you in the third grade). Beyond that they get out on the break and aren’t afraid to bomb threes. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris may not be a traditional backcourt, but they can score.
The Raptors three-point shooting continues to be a major problem.
It’s not just the misses, it’s also the unwillingness to take them—and/or, the knowledge that they can’t make them. Case in point, in the second quarter, Kyle Lowry broke down his man on the right side of the floor; Nogueira flashed into the paint as the defense shifted and Lowry found him. As the defense rotated, Bebe turned and found DeMar DeRozan in the left corner wide open. (Bebe is a great passer; often, too willing a passer, but he sees the floor well.) But that’s not DeRozan’s shot. Instead, he drove… right into the defense… and settled for a midrange J that missed. At this point, the Raptors just aren’t threatening from deep, and teams will give the Raptors the three-point line until they prove they’re dangerous from out there. And we all know, that three-point shooting is the way the league is going; if you can’t shoot it, you won’t be able to keep up. Look no further to the Raptors’ two playoff exits vs. the Cavaliers the past two seasons to see what I mean. They finished 11-31 but most of those makes came in garbage time.
There are always nights like this…
Every team has them; some nights, nothing works, you fall behind early, and it just gets ugly from there. (I suspect a lot of teams have them in the altitude in Denver.) I don’t read too much into it, especially this early in the season; as long as there’s not a “hangover effect” in Utah on Friday night, as long as the errors we saw don’t turn into habits, then there’s nothing to panic about. (Well, except maybe the shooting.)
…so, you try to look for the bright spots.
Norman Powell had his second “just OK” offensive game in a row, which is a big step up after the five “oh God Norm what are you doing” games in a row he had. He finished 6-11 with three dunks, and led all starters with 14 points; of course, 4 of his 5 misses were 3-pointers. He also finished -26, a rarity for Norm. Alfonso McKinnie saw his first action of the season, and made the most of his garbage time minutes—he didn’t miss a shot. OG Anunoby had a couple lovely drives to the hoop, but needs to learn to finish strong. Delon Wright finally saw a couple threes drop… yep, that’s about all I’ve got.
Let’s see how the Raptors fare in their final game of the road trip in Utah!
Five thoughts on the Raptors squeaking out their first road win of the season:
- Pascal Siakam started for the second straight game; he earned it with his excellent play in the Warriors game, and he played just as well tonight. All told he’s 17-22 with 38 points in his two starts! He’s only grabbed 7 total rebounds, which isn’t ideal for a starting SF, but he’s also only turned the ball over once, which is impressive for a second-year player. Much like fellow sophomore Jakob Poeltl, I’m really impressed with his hands and his touch; big men and rookies often have a hard time catching tough passes, and getting the ball up on the rim or backboard quickly. Both of these guys have quick hands, are able to grab passes even when they aren’t on the money, and don’t need a lot of time to gather themselves and shoot.
- Speaking of Poeltl, he and the Raptors bench finally came back down to earth after four solid games. They pretty much crapped the bed at the end of the first quarter and into the second, giving up a 17-6 run and looking completely listless on both ends of the floor. Poeltl seemed outmathced by Julius Randle, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright couldn’t get anything going outside or going to the rim, and OG Anonuby, while playing with good energy once again, shot 2-8. The Lakers bench definitely seemed like the better second unit!
- Thankfully, the Raptors starters finally delivered a decent all-around game. Kyle Lowry continues to shoot poorly, but he did earn a triple-double, and hit the game-sealing three with a minute left (after a wonderful, Steve Nash-ian zig-zag dribble right under the hoop, back out through the paint to the three-point line). DeMar DeRozan carried the Raps in the fourth with his usual array of midrange shots. Serge Ibaka and Siakam combined for 16-20 shooting. (You won’t believe this, but Ibaka finished with 0 assists.) Norm Powell is still struggling big-time on offense, but managed to finish with a +17, so he must be doing something right out there. Overall the five Raps starters were all positive in plus/minus, and the five bench players all negative. The Lakers? Exact opposite.
- Lonzo Ball is gonna be a good pro, no doubt about it. Everything everyone says about his court vision, awareness and timing is spot-on. He sees the floor extremely well; and not just when he has the ball, he just seems to be in the right place at the right time, even on defense, which is impressive for a rookie (even though his actual 1-1 defense isn’t strong yet). But that jump shot… I can’t believe the Lakers aren’t trying to correct that. His accuracy is terrible, so defenders are letting him shoot. But the mechanics are so poor—he shoots, basically, from the side of his chest—that, if he ever does get his accuracy up, defenders will stick to him and he won’t be able to get that shot off. So strange.
- As for the rest of the Lakers, it’s a weird team, man. Everyone’s heard the rumors that the team’s in a holding pattern, waiting for LeBron James to sign there next summer… and looking at the roster, you can’t help but think, “yep, they didn’t give a crap about this season.” I mean, they’re long and athletic, they have nice young players in Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Randle… but no one on this team can shoot! And they can’t defend for anything. If they Raptors could shoot, and if their bench didn’t look like they spent all night partying in Hollywood, I think the Raptors blow the doors of this team. But if they have indeed preserved enough flexibility to acquire LeBron James and another star and team them with Ball, then I guess they’re the winners in the long run!
The road trip is half-over! Up next, it’s the Trail Blazers in Portland.
Five thoughts on another easy Raptors win:
- The bench was great again, but the starters showed up a little better after starting slowly on opening night. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan looked like themselves again, combining for 47 points on 24 shots and 18 free throws. Serge Ibaka dropped in 21, and Jonas Valanciunas was off to another decent start before spraining an ankle and missing the second half.
- Jacob Poetl continues to impress as the backup to Jonas, and Lucas Noguiera had a stellar season debut in relief as well. Poetl’s got excellent hands, catching tough passes and snagging loose balls, and I love how quickly he gets the ball up on the rim. As for Bebe, the lead was already double digits by the time he came in, and the Sixers were on the second night of a back-to-back, so I won’t get too ahead of myself. But he brought tons of energy and managed to play under control, ending up with 10 points and nine rebounds in 15 minutes.
- The Raptors shot 44 three-pointers. 44! Sure, they only hit 13 (Ibaka had five of them), but the way those shots opened up the floor for DeMar to get into the paint was critical for his big night. Much was made of the Raptors new-look offense and how DeMar would fit in, since the three-point shot isn’t his forte. If it turns out that everyone else jacking threes gives him and the bigs more room to operate, then I think that’s fine; important to note, though, that better, more veteran defensive teams won’t scramble as much on those threes as the Sixers do. The Raps will need to shoot closer to 40% to keep teams honest.
- The only starter not to show up tonight was Norman Powell, and that was disappointing. He picked up a few dumb fouls, never got into a rhythm, and only ended up with two points in 17 minutes. I’m really looking for Norm to bring consistency night-to-night this year, something the Raps have lacked in the small forward spot for years.
- The Sixers have tons of great young pieces, but they’ve still got some ways to go, especially on defense. And I know they were missing their best player in Joel Embiid, and playing their third game in four nights. But, the Raptors got a lot of open looks and had a lot of drives with the defenders back-pedaling, which led to a lot of free throws. Young teams usually struggle at the defensive end so that’s not a surprise; but many pre-season predictions had the Sixers taking a big leap this year, and I think that was overlooked. Another thing overlooked: These guys have never played together! Embiid has only played 30 games; Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are rookies; J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson are new to the team. Every time a “superteam” comes together, we say, “hey, these guys will need time to gel;” well, I’d say that’s even more true of a young team like this. This team has a ton of potential, but, I think a little patience is warranted.
The Raps now head out on an incredibly tough six-game road trip. Glad they got these two early wins!