We are all enjoying the Toronto Raptors from a distance. The team is fun and good, and they had another winning week: 3-1 on a four-game road trip through Memphis, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. Scratch the surface, though, and blemishes start to show. It was not an outstanding week for the youth.
While OG Anunoby was solid with the starters (more on him in a moment), the bench averaged just 24.5 points per game, including an abysmal 17 in the Clippers loss and 16 in the Phoenix win. With Delon Wright and Lucas Nogueira out with injuries, the focus is narrowing, and tough times have befallen Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet. Even the fun and good bromance of Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam didn’t play to expectations this week.
Let’s see how it breaks down in the rankings.
3 Young Gunz of the Week
1. OG Anunoby (last week: 3)
With so many struggles behind him, the lone youth in the Raptors starting lineup shone alongside strong players this week. Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas were surprisingly good throughout the Raptors’ road trip, but Anunoby can’t be forgotten.
The rookie peaked at eight points, but was silent and deadly. He shot at least 50% from deep in all four games, bringing him to a team-best (non-big white dude division) 43.5% from three on the season. This is yet another example of OG’s surprises early in the season. That he’s the most reliable shooter on the team, with a decent sample size of 69 shots, is fantastic.
This clip’s from last week, but gives you the right idea.
He’s also continued to put in work on the defensive end. While the Raptors played a lot of teams with big men as their centrepieces this week, OG was stout and reliable on the defensive end of the floor.
2. Pascal Siakam (last week: 5)
The drop-off from OG to the other youths was sizeable this week, but Pascal Siakam gets my nod because he still had a game to hang his hat on in Memphis. Siakam was 4-for-6 in that one, scoring eight and grabbing four rebounds. Through the rest of the trip, though, he struggled, shooting a combined 2-for-10.
Also, the three-point shot that looked so promising early on has abandoned Siakam. He’s just 9-for-49 on the season, for a percentage of 18.4%. He doesn’t need that look to improve his game, but it is worth noting that the floor expansion may have to wait for another summer’s worth of work.
3. Fred VanVleet (last week: 2)
Again, the Memphis win helped stabilize a pretty poor week for VanVleet. He notched double figures in that one, scoring 12 (3-for-6 from three) and adding three assists.
The Delon Wright injury started to show its toll in the latter three games, though, as VanVleet struggled to find breathing room against teams with stout interior defenders.
With Kosta Koufos and DeAndre Jordan inside, Raptors opponents made a point to swarm VanVleet on drives, making those dump-off passes to Siakam and Poeltl impossible. It also didn’t allow him to finish, as he shot just 3-for-14 in L.A. and Phoenix.
The shooting woes of C.J. Miles and Norman Powell only exacerbated the issue. VanVleet is good, but he’s not good enough to be a full-time creator with the bench unit. Powell needs to step up, and Wright coming back will help.
The Other Guys
4. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 1)
Poeltl spent a lot of time this week playing above his weight class. As a result, he was quiet, but still effective in his minutes. In Memphis and Sacramento, he had really nice performances: eight points (3-for-6), seven rebounds, and nine points (4-for-5, four rebounds respectively.
It was on the other end where Poeltl struggled, as he was just too small to effectively guard or rebound against Zach Randolph and DeAndre Jordan. An awakening of Jonas Valanciunas resulted in a diminished role for Poeltl toward the end of the road trip too. Not to fear, there will be plenty of opportunity against more modern bigs for Jakob to be Poefect once again.
5. Norman Powell (last week: 4)
Hoo boy. It was a pretty terrible week for Norm Powell, as struggles snowballed all road trip. By the time the Raptors were in Phoenix, Powell appeared to be playing against himself more than anything, as almost every decision made with the ball in his hands was the wrong one.
The statistics line up. Powell was fine in Memphis (2-for-3 for nine points), but was a -15 against the Clippers and -14 in just ten minutes(!) of playing time in Phoenix. He combined to shoot 1-for-12 in those two games.
Now coming off the bench, the pressure is on Powell to be an offensive creator. Over the course of this road trip, though, Powell was determined to get himself going first. As a result, many of his possessions were empty, while defenses packed in on the other bench players who are typically more efficient.
I’m confident Norm will break out of whatever he’s going through right now — but a lot of his minutes are hurting the team, as opposed to just being bad.
6. Lorenzo Brown (last week: T-6)
Of the true “others”, Brown was the only one to get playing time — a combined four minutes in the last two games of the trip. He shot the ball once! It did not go in.
T-7. Delon Wright, Alfonzo McKinnie, Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira
Please come back, Delon.