This season started with the Toronto Raptors’ young players as question marks. Out of the jumble of talent, who would take the biggest step forward? Who would earn their spot in the rotation?
What’s been most surprising over the first month is that Toronto’s bench isn’t just reliable, it’s become the catalyst of success. The schedule runs like clockwork: after an ill-fitting starting lineup hits the doldrums, the young guys come in, provide some energy, and get the Raptors back into the game. It happened twice this week in wins, as Toronto went 2-1 against Boston, Houston, and New Orleans on a mini road trip.
So who’s up and who’s down? Here are the rankings.
3 Young Gunz of the Week
1. OG Anunoby (last week: 2)
As Norman Powell went down with a hip injury in Sunday’s game, OG Anunoby’s star was suddenly on the rise. He got his first career start Tuesday against Houston, and had the best all-around game by a Young Gun this season: 16 points (6-for-8), two rebounds, an assist, and a steal, all while sufficiently guarding the oft-dangerous James Harden.
This doesn't begin to describe how awesome OG was on Harden last night.— Daniel Hackett (@dhackett1565) November 15, 2017
Harden's numbers with OG on the floor: 2/15 from the floor, 1/6 from 3, 6 AST and 6 TOV, -12 in 23 MP.
When OG sat, he was 6/10 from the floor, 2/5 from 3, 5 AST, 3 TOV, +10 in 16 MP.
Holy crap. https://t.co/CWHLYFFwXw
These numbers are astounding, and watching OG’s success continues to be wildly fun. Again, Anunoby wasn’t even supposed to be playing until January. He’s the focal point of a super fun group, and looks to be cool as a cucumber in an NBA setting. A late three and two stifling defensive possessions against Harden during a game-sealing 8-0 Raptors run showed that perfectly.
Sure, OG wasn’t great in the Pelicans game — but the kid provided us a fantastic 48, and deserves to be top dog.
2. Pascal Siakam (last week: 1)
If there’s one bench player who most obviously displays the hustle attributed to the whole group, it’s Pascal Siakam. His numbers weren’t outstanding this week (his best game was a ten-point, two assist outing in Houston), but he’s still a dramatic change of pace from Serge Ibaka, and continues to catch teams off guard in transition and off the dribble. It would be hard to drop this guy further than second.
3. Fred VanVleet (last week: 3)
There was collective frustration with VanVleet playing fourth quarter minutes against the Celtics; but for every annoyance with Fred, he seems to pull out something redeeming. His outings against Houston and New Orleans were the best basketball we’ve seen from him — late in the Pelicans game, he was carving up a lazy DeMarcus Cousins, driving off of high screens and getting right to the bucket.
VanVleet is fearless, and a 4-for-7 week on three-pointers stretches his game. If Delon Wright misses a long stretch of time, this type of play will need to continue.
The Other Guys
4. Delon Wright (last week: 5)
It’s extremely depressing to see Delon Wright suffer an injury to the same shoulder that delayed his NBA debut after college. It’s especially so considering the game he had the night before: a perfect 5-for-5, 14-point performance against Houston.
Delon just does cool shit with the basketball in his hands. On one foray into the lane on Tuesday, he stopped, pulled a rec league up-and-under, and finished a layup. In transition, the Euro steps are just getting ridiculous.
In three-guard sets with Kyle Lowry and VanVleet, his lack of shooting doesn’t factor as much, and the Raptors will sorely miss that look in the immediate future.
5. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 4)
The week started with Jakob Poeltl continuing to yo-yo minutes with Lucas Nogueira, but after Bebe came out poorly against Houston, it’s been all Jak since. Poeltl is steady as they game, and was a fantastic foil for DeMarcus Cousins on Thursday off the bench. He didn’t punish Boogie with size, as Jonas Valanciunas did. He did it the Poeltl way: footwork, smart floor placement, and basketball IQ. My dear son.
6. Lucas Nogueira (last week: 7)
The bottom of the healthy barrel, Bebe had a rough week and may have taken a step back in his battle with Poeltl for minutes. A scoreless 19 minutes against Boston was followed by the aforementioned slow start in Houston. He wasn’t called upon in New Orleans against the burly Cousins. For now, it would appear Bebe is on the backburner.
7. Norman Powell (last week: 6)
A poor start to the season gets worse for Powell, as Aron Baynes hip-checked him into submission on Sunday, resulting in a pointer injury that’s kept him sidelined. While an initial walk on crutches made a nation very nervous, it would appear Powell won’t need too much more time before returning — hopefully as Playoff Norm.
8. Bruno Caboclo (last week: 8)
Bruno is back in the G-League, and dominating once again. Providing continuity to a team that desperately needs it, he’s getting game experience, which is still the most important thing for him.
9. Alfonzo McKinnie (last week: 9)
McKinnie is back with the big club this week, but stayed quiet despite a short spurt of real minutes in the New Orleans game. He may get involved more with Delon Wright out.