Rejoice, rejoice, the Raptors have arrived!
Or at least so was the feeling after last night’s cathartic 129-113 thumping of the (now formerly) Western Conference-leading Houston Rockets.
It was a scene, man. DeMar DeRozan dropped five dimes in the first quarter after the Rockets sold out on trapping him, something that would have been unfathomable a couple seasons ago, when ESPN’s (nee Grantland’s) Zach Lowe wrote something along the lines of “Once he receives the ball, it’s unclear if DeRozan is aware he has teammates”.
Jonas Valanciunas was effective in limited minutes against the run-and-gun Rockets. Kyle Lowry did Kyle Lowry stuff, which is the best kind of stuff. CJ Miles buried six triples off the bench. Delon Wright looked smoother than butter on a bald weasel. And OG Anunoby… more on him later.
Tonight, however, none of that matters.
Tonight you have to face the two-headed monster that is Boogie and the Brow, which yes, is an NBA team, not a 70s cop show. Though I’d totally watch that cop show.
Here are tonight’s details and keys to the game.
Where to Watch
Sportsnet One, 8 p.m. EST
Toronto - Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
New Orleans - Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, Dante Cunningham, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins
Toronto - Norman Powell (doubtful - hip pointer)
New Orleans - Alexis Ajinca (knee), Omer Asik (illness), Solomon Hill (hamstring), Frank Jackson (foot), Tony Allen (doubtful - knee inflammation)
Centre of Attention
The Raptors frontcourt rotation, and particularly that off the centre position, has been a confusing lightning rod early in the season. One of the main issues is that it’s made up of five utterly different players, all with clear-cut strengths and flaws. Every one of their early-season bios contains a Chuck Hayes-sized ‘BUT’.
Valanciunas has been effective on offense, while playing a career-low 20.7 minutes per game shooting what would be a career best 58.7% from the floor but he has the worst defensive rating (113.1) and worst net rating (0.2) of any player on the team.
Jakob Poeltl looks like a real-deal NBA big man, with quick feet and hands, and a brain to match but the second year big is already started to look slightly gassed in a larger role – let’s not forget fouling incessantly was a problem for him a year ago, and hope the grind of the NBA schedule doesn’t lead to regression in this area.
Pascal Siakam has improved in every facet of his game as a sophomore, flashing a jump-shot that seemed non-existent a year ago and continuing his high-energy style of play but he still doesn’t get on the glass as well as you might think, particularly on the offensive end, and has the worst defensive rating (105.6) and net rating (2.1) of any Raptors bench player.
Lucas Nogueira continues to be a hilarious guy and an advanced statistical monster but seems to struggle with consistency whenever given a larger role, mainly for basketball IQ reasons. He’s probably always going to be an athletic back-up centre, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Serge Ibaka has been a favourite target of Raptors Twitter early this season, with some calling his acquisition from the Orlando Magic the first clear misstep of Masai Ujiri’s tenure with the Raptors. While I disagree with that insanely premature assertion (the initial acquisition was fine, the Raptors were awesome defensively down the stretch last year; the contract extension? That remains to be seen. And yes you can separate the two) Ibaka has looked like the stiff version of himself a worrying amount so far this season, which mitigates his very good outside shooting and the spacing it provides. His 0.77 RPM so far this season would have him ranked 29th as a power forward and 29th as a center, nestled comfortably between Cole Aldrich and Meyers Leonard. Uh… but.
Against legendary buddy cop duo Boogie and the Brow? The Raptors are going to have to find some balance in this very unbalanced group, and fast.
OG stands for *Very Chuck Swirsky Voice* ‘Oh my Goodness!’
OG Anunoby started for the injured Norman Powell last night. He scored 16 points, made three three-pointers, threw down a thunderous dunk and played strong defense on James Harden all night long. He had ACL surgery less than a calendar year ago. I’m one that’s cautious with players recovering from injury — you don’t want to push a guy who’s not totally there yet, and knee recoveries can be tricky — but holy hell does OG look good. Even if he just plays 20ish minutes per night, his size looks really great in that starting unit and strengthens the bench by sending Norman Powell there.
I don’t think it’s going to happen this early – Dwane Casey seems like the kind of old-school guy who isn’t going to give someone’s starting job away to an injury – but if this is a glimpse into the future, baby, get me a hoverboard and some self-tying shoes.
Ball Movement = Threes, Baby, Threes!
At 56.6%, or 14th in the NBA, Toronto has vaulted itself from dead last a season ago (47.8%) in assisted baskets, to a respectably average team. Against the Rockets last night? They racked up 28 assists on 41 made baskets, good for 68.2%, and made 14/=-of-30 three pointers, good for 46.7%. In their victory against the Pelicans last week, Toronto had 27 assists on 45 made baskets (60.0%) and made 16-of-42 threes (38.1%).
Stay with me here.
The Raptors are shooting 34.5% from three this season, taking 31.0 per game and making 10.7. The Raptors are shooting 37.6% from three in wins this season (11.3/31.6). The Raptors are shooting 29.3% from three in losses this season (8.8-of-30.0).
It’s not rocket surgery.
Pass the rock. Bomb triples. Drink Sprite.