Game two of the Raptors’ preseason wasn’t nearly as reinvigorating and promise-laden as Sunday night’s win in Honolulu. In the team’s second island-bound matchup against the Clippers, many of the encouraging signs flashed in the opener were dimmed.
Those who stayed up for the 1 AM tip-off were treated to the news that Kyle Lowry (rest) and Norman Powell (right ankle strain) were going to sit. For the team’s purposes, these were smart, precautionary moves ahead of a meaningless exhibition game. Those watching however, were subsequently treated to a sloppy Toronto outing with two of the team’s three best creators out of the lineup.
If there was a through-line between both games in Hawaii, it was the Raptors’ dedication to modernizing their shot chart with uninspiring results. After hoisting 43 shots from outside two nights ago, Dwane Casey’s crew carried on the pursuit of a “culture reset,” attempting 36 triples in the wee hours of Wednesday. That the Raptors made just six of those is notable, but ultimately unimportant. Process surpasses results on the importance ladder in early October, and that the Raptors’ seem committed to the cause of stretching their attack is step one in making the offense more 2017 and playoff-friendly.
Serge Ibaka’s 1-of-5 night from outside contributed heavily to the team’s lopsided three-point totals. Ibaka struggled in his 20 minutes, too often forcing the issue when the Clippers quickly closed out on his pops to the arc. If there’s a rusty wheel in Toronto’s new free-flowing system, it may be Ibaka’s slow decision making when the swing comes his way. His brain-to-fingertip transmission often gets stuck buffering, leaving Ibaka powerlessly looking at the correct pass while an opponent swoops in to smother him. On the whole, Ibaka’s positive traits outweigh his most glaring weakness. He won’t shoot 20 percent from deep every night, and he did convert on a couple of drives against Clippers’ big men — one of which resulted in a thunderous dunk in the early going. But his struggles on Wednesday morning do illustrate some of the limitations of Toronto’s personnel that could make a transition to a pass-happy offense a tad rocky.
Jonas Valanciunas was projected to pose a similar issue for the Raptors to contend with. Throughout his career, his inability to pinpoint the simplest of passes has capped his utility within Toronto’s offense. With four assists and a handful of startling passes thrown in the opener, we saw a glimpse of the inside-out element a fully realized Valanciunas could offer by dishing from his office in the post. He failed to match his Sunday night showing in game two, finishing with no assists and substantially fewer whip-smart tosses to his teammates dotted around the perimeter. Just as the first game wasn’t proof of Valanciunas’ metamorphosis into a Gasolian passer, Wednesday morning doesn’t doom him to a season full of bumbled possessions. Monitoring his progression without jumping to conclusions seems like the advisable strategy at this point.
On a more positive note, Pascal Siakam looks like a different player than the jumpy, undisciplined and raw rookie who started 38 games out of necessity last season. Few individual plays threaten to ooze excitement this season the way a Siakam-run fast break does. Big men aren’t supposed to move as swiftly as he does. In two straight games now, Siakam has stolen the ball from a Clipper and led the Raptors to successful transition scores going the other way. In just 21 minutes, Siakam posted 11 points, 5 rebounds, an assist and four steals. Five turnovers are to be expected from a young player just cutting his teeth as a secondary play maker; reps should lead to his refinement, and he’s earned the chance to get them with his first two preseason showings.
Some other quick notes on the loss:
- DeMar DeRozan remains a joy to watch. He worked from his home base in the mid-range more often in this one than he did Sunday. He probably missed at some point, but it certainly felt like every artful 18-footer he put up found mesh. He seems to be hunting drive-and-kick opportunities more aggressively, too — whoever finds themselves standing in the right corner this season needs to be prepared to receive a DeRozan dart. And when he takes it to the rim himself, he’s capable of sleak finishes like this.
- K.J. McDaniels frankly doesn’t look like an NBA player. He finished the night 1-of-4 from the field, looking uncomfortable and clunky on his drives to the rim. Toronto has plenty of light-shooting, athletic specimens already, so it’s hard to see where McDaniels fits in.
- Jakob Poeltl’s most obvious flaw last season was his apprehensive finishing. Wednesday morning saw him get his first real run of the preseason, but that issue appears to have followed him into his sophomore year. Raptors fans — and Tim Hardaway Jr. — know he can dunk; it would be nice if he could remember it too.
- The Clippers are going to fun as shit. Behold, Milos Teodosic.
Why do all the best passers in the world come from Serbia? pic.twitter.com/Trb4FpnVKZ— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) October 4, 2017
Chris Paul and his infinite grumpiness would never do something this flashy.
They didn’t even need Milos for this sequence!
Mercifully, there are only three more of these things left before the real games start. See you on Thursday for Raptors-Blazers in Portland.