At some point last night the Raptors just decided to give up. We don’t like to admit this, but that’s what happened. The team has been struggling without Kyle Lowry — usually a great motivator — and in the wake of Russell Westbrook’s onslaught on history, they melted like a bucket of ice cream in the hot sun. It sucks because this Raptors team never used to do that.
There’s not a lot of time to be despair though. After the Thunder game, the locker room doors stayed closed for longer than usual. The players apparently had it out with one another, the coaches came in next — it’s not a huge leap to assume things were at least modestly heated. As hot as that sun? We’ll see.
The Raptors are in Detroit tonight to revisit the Pistons. The last time these two teams met Lowry was still playing, and Toronto gave up a double-digit lead late to lose by one point. It was one of the more dispiriting losses of the season since, well, Detroit continues to be a dispiriting team. Who watches these guys?
Apparently we do. Here are three things to keep an eye on for Raps-Pistons tonight:
Bounce Back Attack
Owing to the Raptors’ post-game summit, it took over 30 minutes before Dwane Casey came out to address the media. I don’t mention this as some sort of hardship; it suggests the duration and intensity of whatever was going on. Obviously none of the players got into specifics but both P.J. Tucker and DeMar DeRozan said the team needed to play harder. And there was a consensus that talk is, essentially, cheap.
So then: Which version of the Raptors will we see tonight? Will we see a fired up and deep roster ready to kick ass and take names? Or will the “Waiting for Lowry” sentiment take over? As I mentioned before, there was a time when the Raptors never got blown out. They’d work to comeback and make every score respectable — even if they ultimately lost. A game like last night would be an insult to that version of the Raptors. But does that version exist anymore?
Seriously Though, The Three Point Shooting
There was a lot of talk last night from Casey about the Raptors’ three point shooting. Namely, while it’s bad enough the Raptors aren’t making threes, they often aren’t even taking them. There have been many instances as of late of guys making an extra unnecessary pass, or getting chased off the line when the line is definitely where they want to be.
In the last 11 games since Lowry went down, Toronto is in the bottom four of three point attempts, makes and percentage. Beyond any sort of defensive or effort concerns, there is a mathematical reality to contend with here. Making an average of 6.5 threes, while attempting 21.2 per game, is quite literally a path to a loss in the modern NBA. Toronto is not going to become the bombs-away Rockets, but still: woof.
In those last 11 games, the Raptors need something from deep from Patrick Patterson (34% on 3.5 attempts), Norman Powell (30% on 2.7 attempts), P.J. Tucker (23.5% on 1.5 attempts) and DeMarre Carroll (16.7% on 3.0 attempts). It’s the most glaring issue right now.
Drummond vs. Jonas
I do relish the degree to which Masai Ujiri just casually lays out Andre Drummond here. Is he deranged for suggesting such a thing? Is Jonas Valanciunas actually better than Drummond? Many would disagree.
The numbers generally suggest Drummond is better. He puts up 14.6 points and 13.7 rebounds to Valanciunas’ 12.1 and 9.6. Andre is also the far better pick-and-roll finisher, with bigger hops, and more furious finishes. On the plus side for JV: he’s actually got some post moves, more shooting range, and can shoot free throws (shooting 83 percent this year, to Drummond’s comical 41).
Perhaps what it comes down to is one of role. On the Raptors JV is the third or fourth option most of the time (sometimes, yes, frustratingly so). Lowry and DeRozan are 1a and 1b, of course, and Serge Ibaka factors in, and then JV works to be involved. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Meanwhile Drummond, still playing on a hamstrung Pistons team, still trying to make it work with Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the remains of Reggie Jackson, has a much bigger role. It’s still not working.
Maybe Masai is right, relatively speaking?
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 7:30pm