If you’re the kind of person who likes using the first preseason game to extrapolate grand conclusions, Toronto’s opener against the Clippers offered plenty of material for you to run with. Sure, some elements of the Raptors’ game mirrored what we’ve seen in years past. But there were also a bounty of new wrinkles and individual skills on display that every who stayed up to watch will certainly be reasonable about and not totally overreact to.
Here’s what you need to know from the Raptors’ 121-113 victory in Honolulu.
What’s the same?
First — and most importantly when it comes to the Raptors’ hopes of success this year — Kyle Lowry appears to have remained extremely good. Looking quite possibly the most svelte he ever has in a Raptors’ jersey, the bootied one dropped 17 points on 3-of-5 shooting (3-of-4 from deep) to go along with four assists in a productive 16 minutes, mainly played with the potential starting crew of DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas.
Also still good: DeRozan’s stroke from the unsexy areas of the floor. In the midst of his 4-of-6 night from the floor, with both misses coming from outside the arc, the vastly improved Clippers broadcast team dubbed DeRozan the “Mid Ranger,” which is probably the most mid nickname a player in 2017 could have.
Norman Powell can still dunk, by the way.
Stormin' Norman Powell looks good tonight, one of our sleepers pic.twitter.com/UNINHHaPOu— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) October 2, 2017
And on a less jovial note, Bruno Caboclo left little doubt that he is still an undetermined measure of time “away” from being a key cog in this Raptors team. He scored six points on 2-8 shooting, missing his first five three point tries before getting two to fall late in the game.
If you didn’t watch the game it would be understandable for you to not believe this but ... uhm ... Valanciunas can apparently pass now? Over the course of a strong 20 minutes, Valanciunas flashed an array of cute bounce passes to cutters out of the post, and even pinged a dart or two to the corner after receiving the ball in the pick-and-roll. The four assists he compiled now stand as his career high in any NBA game — preseason, regular season or playoffs — and that total could have reached six or seven if not for some missed bunnies.
It’s pretty clear after one game that you should absolutely expect Valanciunas to be bearded Nikola Jokic this season.
Most of the team got in on the passing fun, too. After years of success in a system that skewed towards stars and stagnancy, the impetus for change appears to have been felt over the summer. For most of the night, the ball zipped with a vigor that has only been present in fleeting spurts in previous seasons. Are we set to observe the 2014 Spurs reincarnate? Probably not. But if the commitment to motion and flow persists, the Raptors’ offense should look and feel healthier, even if the per-100 possession results wind up similar or even slightly less impressive than in prior years. It’s not an established trend yet by any means, but it’s certainly worth keeping tabs on as the preseason carries on.
Beyond the systematic updates, Miles, Toronto’s shiniest off-season addition had a few revelatory moments. A tidy Euro-step in transition and a few smart instances of secondary ball-handling shed light on how truly putrid PJ Tucker, Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll were when the action funneled there way last year. Miles may not be a thrilling piece, but he shouldn’t be an irritating one either.
Honolulu will host the second and final Raptors-Clippers preseason tilt in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Now that the threat of a Valanciunas triple-double looms, we’re sure you’ll be staying up to watch.