So, it’s January 12th. You’re a couple weeks into your new year’s resolution to look like the next Instagram Explore page beach model, and it’s going great. You lost five pounds, you’ve bumped up the treadmill speed three notches, and you’ve got more energy when you wake up.
What would make this any better, you ask? Some sweet, sweet validation from your friends and family. Getting healthy is nothing until someone says “you look great!”, right? Right??
Anyway, this is all a metaphor for the sweet validation the Raptors’ youth got on Thursday against Cleveland. After half a season of advancement, of bolstering this Raptors team and turning them from transitional to terrific, the United States television market (glory be) finally got to see the fun in action.
The 133-99 victory, which included a career-high 22 points from Fred VanVleet and five filthy blocks by Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright, was part of a thrilling 3-1 week for the Raptors. Let’s enjoy it, and rank those young men once again.
3 Young Gunz of the Week
1. Fred VanVleet (last week: 2)
No way this could go anywhere else. While it was an otherwise low key week for Steady Freddie, his explosion against Cleveland was the best part of everyone’s week. With Kyle Lowry out, he came off the bench as Delon Wright’s backup, and impersonated Lowry to a tee.
He was shooting pull-up threes from straightaway. He abused a (very rusty) Isaiah Thomas numerous times off the dribble. He was in attack mode, and refused to let up through his 24 minutes. His line to finish: 22 points (8-for-11, 6-for-8 from three), with four rebounds, four assists and a steal.
Deservedly, he was given the Jonas Valanciunas’ printer paper seal of approval.
When VanVleet is hitting the outside shot like he was on Thursday, he really does look like a miniature Lowry on the offensive end. He’s going to be one of the guys the Raptors absolutely need to make shots in the playoffs — Thursday was a big step toward that being possible.
2. Delon Wright (last week: 1)
My second-favourite player to abuse Isaiah Thomas last night: Delon Wright. While VanVleet had the better evening, Wright had the better week for the Raptors. Lowry’s injury in the Brooklyn Nets game meant that Wright was in the starter’s role for Miami and Cleveland. He did exceptional in those two games, shooting 8-for-18 for a combined 19 points.
Wright was also dynamic in the Bucks win last Friday, with 12 points and seven assists. He continues to elevate the fun level of the young core.
3. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 4)
Against Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and Miami, Poeltl was pushed back in the rotation in favour of Bebe. This made sense: Nogueira was more suited for the aggressive trapping defense of those teams. With DeRozan doubled above the arc, Nogueira could be an escape valve, and make the right pass.
Against a smaller Cleveland team, though, Jakob was unleashed. 12 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks in 25 minutes — a +29 evening — had Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller hollering on the TNT broadcast. Poeltl continues to be the team leader in one dribble layups, and had a season-best highlight block on Jae Crowder in transition.
*Jack Armstrong voice*— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 12, 2018
Get that GAHBAGE outta here! pic.twitter.com/65WanBCRin
The only way we can sum it up:
The Other Guys
4. Pascal Siakam (last week: 3)
Pascal was also excellent in the Cleveland game (most were), with 16 points on ten shots and seven rebounds. He spent some time on LeBron James, a look the Raptors will surely use as a change of pace in any eventual playoff series.
The three-point shot still escapes him — he was just 1-for-10 this week — but everything else about his game is coming along.
5. Norman Powell (last week: 7)
Another possible breakout game for Norm?
After being in the doldrums for six games, Powell finally put together some continuity against a lazy Cleveland defense. His 14 points, six rebounds and three assists came in fits and starts, but there were enough positive plays in there to feel good about. After the two missed shots that could’ve sealed a win vs. Miami, it was extra sweet.
With Lowry out, Powell is naturally going to get some more chances in the coming days. He has to take advantage.
6. OG Anunoby (last week: 5)
Another quiet offensive week for the Raptors’ starting small forward. The three-point shot has gone awry, and OG was visibly frustrated after missing a few wide open looks against Cleveland. Anunoby was just 2-for-13 from distance this week.
The defense, though: amazing. OG spent time guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, Goran Dragic, and LeBron James this week. He showed delicious flashes against all three.
7. Lucas Nogueira (last week: 6)
Bebe back. He was ahead of Poeltl in the rotation for the first three games this week, and showed what he can bring against aggressive defences.
Nogueira makes the right pass nine times out of ten, and while his offensive game is otherwise limited, that’s of great value to a team that has DeMar DeRozan on it.
8. Lorenzo Brown (last week: NR)
Even Lorenzo got in on the Cleveland blowout! Brown had a great dunk, and made three whole shots in the game! This, after playing 35 minutes in the G-League Showcase earlier in the day, was nothing short from heroic.
Another guy who will get some playing time in Lowry’s absence, Lorenzo continues to be an unseen engine for the Raptors’ bench.
lorenzo brown leads the nba in 10-2 runs sparked by doing absolutely nothing— Joe Wolfond (@joey_doubleyou) January 10, 2018
9. Malcolm Miller (last week: NR)
The mandatory Bruno Caboclo minutes in a blowout went to Malcolm Miller. He made both his three-point shots, and added some extra humiliation to Cleveland. It was... incredible.