Young players can provide you with a lot of hope for the future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win a lot of games. Case in point: the Timberwolves. They have a direction now, with coach Tom Thibodeau, and they have a trio of young players to build around, in Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and yet: they are 19-33, good for 13th in the West.
The Raptors have a lot of young players too (some might say too many), but they are driven by the veteran excellence of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. With the former back in the lineup, the Raptors looked more like themselves on Monday night while dispatching the Los Angeles Clippers. Not perfect, not whole, but more like themselves. The team is still missing Patrick Patterson, and without him there are a host of questions to ask.
So let’s ask them! The Raptors are hoping to win their third game in a row. The Timberwolves — minus LaVine who is done for the year with a torn ACL — will just be happy to stop a four-game skid.
Let’s go to the tape.
In the (possible) absence of Patterson, the Raptors have a glaring need at power forward. I mean, they always have that need, but now it is really glaring. The Raps will presumably start Pascal Siakam tonight, setting them back off the jump, before rolling with...? A small-ball lineup? Some time for Jared Sullinger? DeMarre Carroll at the 4? The Lucas Nogueira-Jonas Valanciunas combo?
The Timberwolves are a solvable team. They have a burgeoning star in Towns, and some interesting pieces around him in the frontcourt — namely Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica — but I suspect the game’s flow will be dictated by the moves and play of the Raptors big men. Lose Dieng as he flies to the boards, or Bjelica on the perimeter, or Towns has he tries to do it all on O, and there could be trouble for Toronto.
Check the Perimeter
Cory Joseph was given the night off against the Nets, and he was emotional about it. There’s never been a question as to Joseph’s compete level, but his effectiveness this season has wavered dramatically. His purposeful drives of yesteryear have turned into a lot of dribbling, and the defensive pressure he provided up top has been almost non-existent. It’s hurting the Raptors, and it remains inexplicable.
Tonight the Raptors will not have to deal with LaVine tonight, but there will be Ricky Rubio to keep in check. And while Lowry will definitely have the first, and best, crack at him, it’s not hard to envision a future where Joseph will be tasked in slowing him down as well. There’s also Tyus Jones to consider, and Brandon Rush — and I was going to add Kris Dunn, but his status remains questionable due to a sore hand. In any case, for the Raptors, a team struggling with perimeter defense as of late, this could be a test for the team — and Joseph.
DeMarre vs. Norm
This is not really a competition, but I’m keeping my eye on it. On Monday against the Clippers, the Raptors played Carroll for the first three quarters of the game before switching to Norman Powell for the fourth. The game was mostly under control by then, so there wasn’t much of a change one way or the other (even as the Raptors struggled to score down the stretch).
Tonight, with younger, faster, springier players in the mix, will we see coach Dwane Casey extend his rotation out to his tenth man more often? Or will Carroll get a chance to prove himself in the 3 and 4 spots? Let’s watch.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 8pm