Well, as with any learning process, basketball life develops in fits and starts. Though the Raptors were 1-2 this week, there was plenty to feel good about. There was the huge comeback against all-world Golden State, and a grimy win against the Pistons. On the other hand, there was afternoon apathy in Philly, and even the energy guys couldn’t do anything to fight it off.
What I’m saying is, even with a losing record, there are reasons to feel good. Let’s revisit the rankings.
3 Young Gunz of the Week
1. Delon Wright (last week: 2)
Amongst the youngsters, this week had a lot of low-scoring lines — each one of the three games came down to one hero for the Raptors, rather than a balance among a few. Against the Sixers, though, Delon Wright was really exceptional.
In a game that most of us would like to forget (except the casual “catch me in the tunnel” moment between Kyle Lowry and Ben Simmons), Wright dropped 20 points in 20 minutes. That came on just 11 shots, including 5-for-6 from three, and four rebounds to boot.
Given that DeMar DeRozan was just 8-for-18 and Lowry looked like he was playing on another planet, Wright was the only reason the Raptors were in that game. He was poised when the Sixers were not, and disruptive enough on defense to allow another big Toronto comeback.
In the games where Wright plays behind Fred VanVleet, it can feel frustrating — but this is just a product of depth. I have no doubt that, when the chips are down, Wright will be a heavy rotation minutes player. Of all the young players, he seems the most even. On nights when he’s making the three, like he was in Philly, it’s cherry on the sundae.
2. OG Anunoby (last week: 6)
OG has been dragged a little bit on the broadcast over the past two weeks for not scoring. While yes, his three-point shot has been flighty in 2018, the most consistent part of his game is what the Raptors need most at that position: defense.
This week was once again a murderer’s row for OG: Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, and... well, okay, almost a full row. He was especially good against Golden State, and challenged Durant well in the meat of the game. That translated to offense, where he shot 5-for-7 for 17 points.
The line is nice, but what really propels OG here is his cool under pressure. Guarding the Warriors’ best players, getting into switches, and making shots on the other end wasn’t no thing for him. His mindset is far beyond a rookie — when his game catches up, the Raptors will have a real gem.
3. Fred VanVleet (last week: 1)
After injuring his knee in the Philadelphia game, Freddie missed Tuesday’s game against the Pistons. Still, his game against the Warriors was good enough to get him into the top three, mostly for the same reasons discussed with OG. He was, as the nickname dictates, steady under pressure. He had 13 points shooting 50% from three, added six rebounds, and three assists.
It seems like teams still haven’t read the book on VanVleet, and that he’s rewriting it a bit as we speak. His confidence shooting is at a level it wasn’t earlier in the season, and it’s no wonder Dwane Casey trusts him as a 7th man in most games. Now hopefully, his injury isn’t too serious and he can bring that composure back soon.
The Other Guys
4. Pascal Siakam (last week: 4)
5. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 3)
These two go together this week, because that’s how they’ve functioned on the court. It’s been a minute since we’ve seen an eye-popper from either Siakam or Poeltl, but they’re doing more than enough around the edges to earn this spot.
Their chemistry was once again on display this week, and it seems like the Raptors guards recognize it. On several occasions, Lowry and DeRozan will take what seems to be in an ill-advised shot, knowing full well that Siakam or Poeltl have carved out space under the basket. The Raptors thrive on the extra possessions that ensue — as a whole, the team thrives on their chaos, even as the half-court flashes have dried up.
I love Poeltl’s roles and Siakam’s threes (when they go in), but it seems like their offensive rebounds are always a punctuation mark on the Raptors’ 12-2-ish runs. It’s integral to Toronto’s success.
6. Norman Powell (last week: 5)
After a positive game against Cleveland, Powell slid back into obscurity this week. He had two points in ten minutes against the Warriors, a DNP-CD against Philly, and three points in 13 minutes against Detroit.
Consistency in minutes seems to be a lost concept for Norm right now. It’s hard to see him getting more chances with C.J. Miles, Delon Wright, and Fred VanVleet playing as well as they are. Rough.
7. Lucas Nogueira (last week: 7)
Bebe also fell out of the rotation, playing a few minutes without many stats to show for it. He too is a victim of circumstance: Poeltl and Siakam were too damn good to get him any run this week.
The DNP Crew
T-8: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown
Starting a new category for the weekly collection of G-League players who get their seat at the end of the bench. While Malcolm Miller and Lorenzo Brown didn’t play this week, they seem to be cemented as the call-up guys to bring in for garbage time. If you want to know why, please read Cole Shelton — I do not watch the G-League.