After Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka signed their new contracts, it was clear the Raptors were turning a page for 2017-18. No longer a veteran rotation with young talent developing in the background, the salary cap was forcing that background talent to grow up. The Baby Raps are going to have to play, and play well, for the team to succeed.
Well, one week in and I’m ecstatic. Top to bottom, the 25-and-under Raptors that make up 10 of the 15 roster spots look like they’ve all taken a leap over the summer. Everyone’s a gym rat, everyone’s playing #ProveEm basketball, and the Raptors bench unit has turned into an overnight League Pass sensation.
Since it’s the year of the young guy, I’ll be ranking the nine unproven talents every week. I’m scratching Jonas Valanciunas — who, believe it or not, is still just 25 — because he’s more of a known quantity in year six of his NBA career.
Let’s get going with week one.
3 Young Gunz of the Week
1. Jakob Poeltl
Fellow large white man Valanciunas went down with an ankle injury in the Raptors’ second game, which opened the door for a Jak attack. Jakob Perfect is my favourite player on the team so far this season, if only because he’s always in the right place, he tries really hard, and he’s coordinated as hell.
The dude shot a team-best 68% from the field this week and had the Raptors’ best plus-minus at +13. I swear I saw him dunk on Kevin Durant and block him later. I swear he was boxing out LaMarcus Aldridge. I think he’s the best player on the NBA’s most fun bench unit.
2. Delon Wright
Another fun player who had a fun week. There were plenty of concerns around Wright filling Cory Joseph’s shoes, but Delon was dynamic in the Raptors’ first four games, averaging 9.5 points, four rebounds and three assists. I’m still recovering from this desperation pass to DeMar DeRozan.
And maybe the highlight of the week, where he euro-stepped the Ra’s al Ghul of euro-steps: Manu Ginobili.
3. OG Anunoby
The youngest Raptors player earns his spot in the Young Gunz just for surpassing expectations and earning a Zach Lowe tweet.
For me, passing has always been the best indicator of how quickly rookies can read the NBA game. Ahead on that curve already: OG Anunoby.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) October 22, 2017
OG still has moments of discomfort, like the early portions of Wednesday’s game in Golden State. Overall, though, his talent is showing. He’s a sensational pocket passer (and has developed quick chemistry with Poeltl), has a decent outside shot, and isn’t making mistakes.
A 45% shooting week with 36.4% from three will get you playing time, and with that confidence from Dwane Casey, OG might be the breakout rookie of the NBA season.
The Other Guys
4. Norman Powell
Powell will be fine, but it was a down week for the starting small forward. He shot just 27.3% from distance, and struggled converting at the rim. Powell is making confident moves, he’s just not finishing them with points.
5. Pascal Siakam
Siakam played just 13 minutes before Wednesday’s game in Golden State, when he exploded for 20 points in basically one quarter. What the hell?? Pascal made a pair of threes, looked like peak KG going to the net, and didn’t just jump around like a crazy person. Whatever they’re feeding these guys, I want some.
6. Lucas Nogueira
Bebe got an opportunity to start after the Valanciunas injury, but got outplayed and injured against the Spurs frontline of LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Joffrey Lauvergne. The Brazilian just seems fragile at this point — mentally and physically — and his missed games have been poorly timed.
7. Fred VanVleet
VanVleet is settling into the team’s 10th man in the rotation, and has looked great in multi-guard lineups next to Delon Wright. While he’s not contributing much, he’s great for pushing the ball and making the right pass, a well-oiled gear in the chugging bench lineup.
8. Alfonzo McKinnie
Just a couple garbage time minutes for McKinnie this week. The Raps waived KJ McDaniels, though, which is a sign of confidence.
9. Bruno Caboclo
I still can’t get over that the door was open for Bruno and this happened:
Come on, man.