Raptors fans were able to get a handful of looks at a variety of different Toronto players this preseason. Regarding those players expected to be in the regular rotation (one through ten on the depth chart), the team fared better than the fan-base may have initially thought they would. We saw a lot of good things from regulars such as Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, along with new guys Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. We also saw rust and a few head-scratching moments (including an ejection) from Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.
While it’s true that it was largely a bench-led rotation which dispatched an Anthony Davis-led New Orleans Pelicans team, they looked nondescript in their few minutes against the Jazz in Game 2 of training camp. The highlights we saw from this group included a potent scoring punch in limited minutes from Malachi Richardson, an overall strong game from point guard Jordan Loyd versus the Pelicans, and some solid play from Lorenzo Brown, entering his first season as a full-time member of the team.
Since we were expecting different things from different groups of players on the roster, we’ll be separating the regular season rotation from the end of bench/905 players that we saw throughout the five games of preseason. And just to note, the Raptors’ recent quartet of waived players (Kay Felder, Deng Adel, Kyle Collinsworth and Eric Moreland) who participated in training camp won’t be mentioned here.
Jonas Valanciunas: A-
(4 GP, 19.2mpg, 13ppg, 7.5rpg, 1.5spg, 48.6 FG%, 89.5 FT%, +9.8 +/-)
Despite his low minute total, JV showed himself to be a continually growing player since the beginning of last season. His offense was one of the high points for the Raptors this preseason, as he flirted with double-doubles in three of his four games, of which he played more than 20 minutes just twice.
In his first two games, he scored 35 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in 40 total minutes, and looked incredibly active on both ends of the floor in each outing. Not looking to shake off any off-season rust, Valanciunas could be one of the team’s most consistent performers to begin the season.
Big fella doin' his thing | 21min - 18pts - 9reb pic.twitter.com/RK81UIoigP— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 3, 2018
Serge Ibaka: B
(4 GP, 16.4mpg, 8.8ppg, 5.3rpg, 2.3bpg, 51.9 FG% +2.5 +/-)
While he looked totally out of whack in the first two games of training camp (including eight personal fouls and three turnovers in 29 total minutes), Ibaka ended up being a pretty efficient player — outside of his very bad looking long-range shot. Thanks to the arrival of two excellent perimeter defenders, Ibaka no longer has to actively pick up driving perimeter players on defense, and can instead do what he does best — spy on an offensive player and block shots from the weak side.
This helped him block a total of nine shots in 65 preseason minutes. If he can gain control of his three-point shot at some point this season, he could become a very valuable player for Toronto. This just in though: Nothing can be done about his stone hands.
Pascal Siakam: A
(5 GP, 23.7mpg, 12.8ppg, 7.8rpg, 3.0apg, 1.2spg, 2.8topg, 48.9 FG%, 68.2 FT%, +12.2 +/-)
The only thing keeping Siakam from a perfect “A+” in the preseason were his turnover totals — which indicate he may have been a little too anxious to make a play on offense. That’s not a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, but he needs to reel in the eager attitude and make better decisions when delivering a pass or driving to the basket during the regular season.
Siakam had an incredible game as the number one option vs. New Orleans in the final game of training camp. This was not only exciting as a member of the Raptors’ Bench Mob, it showed us all a glimpse of a possible future role for Siakam — a top offensive option, somewhere farther down the line. In that game he totalled 21 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and four steals in just 28 minutes of floor time.
OG Anunoby: B+
(2 GP, 25.0mpg, 10.0ppg, 3.0rpg, 50.0 FG%, 44.0 3P%, +5.0 +/-)
Anunoby was absent from the first three games of training camp for personal reasons, but when he returned he looked the part of the player we all hoped he could be in his second NBA season. He looks to be in great shape (along with pretty much the entire roster), meaning his defense was largely on point in both games he appeared in.
Anunoby played great team defense in his two starts, deflecting passes and forcing a few turnovers over his 50 minutes of floor time, but it was his offensive production in New Orleans that ultimately had fans buzzing. Anunoby began the game by hitting 3-of-4 three pointers and finishing with 15 points in 23 minutes against the Pels. He could very well be the starting forward next to Kawhi Leonard on opening night next Wednesday.
Kawhi Leonard: A-
(3 GP, 22.7mpg, 13.3ppg, 4.3rpg, 3.3apg, 2.0spg, 38.7 FG%, 12.5 3P%, +12.3 +/-)
Speaking of Leonard, he looked to be in total control of his tempo throughout the three games he appeared in, which should be exciting news for Raptors fans. Yes, he was rusty — he shot sub-40 percent, just 13 percent from distance and 60 percent from the line in 68 preseason minutes — but that shouldn’t be a concern considering how he moved on the floor following a season-long thigh injury that kept him out of all but nine games last season.
Leonard’s shot will return, that is almost certain. Everything else about his game looked like it did two years ago when he was considered the third best player on the planet, and the best two-way player in league. Kawhi passes, he rebounds, he plays defense — and he’s a Raptor. Despite his shooting woes, he found ways to produce results on the floor, and that’s earned him an excellent grade for the preseason.
Getting comfortable | 18min - 17pts - 5reb pic.twitter.com/ru1SpYQe9X— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 3, 2018
C.J. Miles: B
(4 GP, 15.7mpg, 8.3ppg, 45.5 FG%, 42.9 3P%, +6.0 +/-)
Miles did everything he was expected to do — he shot the ball very well, and very often. He looked spry, bouncy and especially adept at getting to the basket compared to last year — showing us a few actual, real-life dunks in the process. It’s no secret that Miles wasn’t satisfied with his production last season, so he’s come into training camp in amazing shape.
People often forget Miles came out of high-school as a high-flying dunker, not the sharp-shooter he is today, and he appears to be ready to brandish both skills together this year. Already in game shape and with a chip on his shoulder, Miles could be even more important to the Bench Mob this season.
Danny Green: A
(4 GP, 21.2mpg, 10.0ppg, 3.3rpg, 1.8spg, 50.0 3P%, 2.5 3P/gm, +16.5 +/-)
Phew. The poor nets that Green shot through this preseason are still recovering from the burns incurred after his blistering shooting display. Whatever groin injury he dealt with last season seems to be completely gone, as Green looked like one of the best Raptors on the court in the four games he played in. Shooting 50 percent from both the floor and long-range, Green led the team in threes made with ten total — drilling one three pointer for every eight minutes he played!
The Raptors expected some veteran presence from Green for sure, but it also looks like they’re getting a healthy player ready to contribute an important role for a contending Eastern Conference playoff team. Green played at full-speed in each of the four games he appeared in and, like most of the roster, appears to be in game shape already. I’m personally most excited to see what Green can do this year.
Norman Powell: B+
(3 GP, 20.3mpg, 11.0ppg, 2.0rpg, 61.9 FG%, 55.6 3P%, +12.3 +/-)
Before the season began, I had somewhat of an epiphany: Powell’s $10 million average annual salary is roughly ten percent of this year’s team salary cap. So even though it’s about the same amount that DeMar DeRozan was paid to lead the Raptors to the playoffs in 2014-15 and 2015-16, we fans may need to readjust our expectations — it’s all a part of the process of an ever-increasing salary cap.
With that said, while Powell’s offense looked solid, I was hoping to see more from Norm in terms of off-ball activity and play-making. While he showed glimpses of the latter against Melbourne (before he left the game with an injury), he was mostly looking for his own shot this preseason — which wasn’t a bad thing in itself because they were ultimately high percentage shots (he shot 13-for-21 overall). We’ll have to wait until the regular season to see some more from our guy Powell.
Delon Wright: B+
(4 GP, 20.8mpg, 8.3ppg, 3.5rpg, 1.5apg, 42.9 3P%, +11.8 +/-)
Wright was subtle but solid in his four games, helping lead a few of the Raptors biggest runs including the big third quarters against the Blazers and Nets. He shot 3-of-4 from distance against Melbourne (but just 0-of-3 in his three other games) and overall stayed active off the ball which is what you want to see from Wright. In one memorable sequence against the Nets, Wright flew to the basket from the perimeter and tipped in a Valanciunas miss over both his teammate and Nets’ starting centre Jarrett Allen.
Wright is largely expected to again play off-guard next to either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet (or in niftier lineups, next to both), and he looked entirely comfortable in his time on the floor. His impact was larger than stats, ultimately, and he played the part of a glue guy to perfection, making timely plays on both ends.
Fred VanVleet: B
(3 GP, 16.0mpg, 8.3ppg, 2.7rpg, 2.3apg, 50.0 3P%, 2.0 3P/gm, +3.0 +/-)
Like his teammate Delon Wright, it was a quiet but overall solid preseason from VanVleet, who looked ready to begin the regular season in earnest. His shooting was incredible in two of his three preseason games, hitting 3-of-4 three-pointers against the Nets and Blazers (he was 0-of-4 against the Jazz), going 6-of-12 from deep in 49 minutes of training camp.
VanVleet showed off his speed and ability to both get to and finish around the basket. He struggled last season around the hoop but looks to have gotten a lot stronger in his upper-body, which will no doubt help to increase his conversion rate at the rim.
Kyle Lowry: C+
(3 GP, 19.2mpg, 9.0ppg, 2.7rpg, 3.3apg, 30.0 FG%, 23.1 3P%, 4.0/4.3 FTM/A, +5.7 +/-)
This will be a controversial grade no matter what letter I put up there, so here we go. In terms of production, Lowry was average at best, and compared to season’s past where the bullish guard was a sharp-shooter from the first game out, Lowry’s form was very dull. I have no doubt he finds his shot, but besides bad shooting he didn’t do anything spectacular — in fact his biggest highlight this preseason was getting ejected against the Nets (lots of stuff happened in that game).
But, it’s preseason for god’s sake, and the 12-year veteran has been through the wringer enough times to understand the difference between training camp and the regular season. He showed glimpses of some budding chemistry with Kawhi Leonard early on, and that’s all Raptors’ fans could hope for — a working relationship between the team’s two biggest stars.
End of the Bench
Greg Monroe: B-
The Moose was a big-body when the lineup needed a big body. As billed, Monroe came into games to gobble up rebounds and provide skull-rattling picks for his guards. He wasn’t able to show off his offensive ability much, but we know it’s there, so there’s something to look forward to as the season progresses.
Chris Boucher: A
Give the kid a huge hand — Boucher came into his hometown of Montreal and showed out by nailing two threes in just seven fourth quarter minutes. The game was way out of hand at that point, but it didn’t matter — the shots may well have been game-winning ones because the crowd wanted them, and he delivered. Just a bucket of raw potential here, so be sure to keep an eye on him in Mississauga this year.
Malachi Richardson: B
Richardson capped off his preseason with a huge game (21 points) against New Orleans, and mostly played the role of catch-and-shoot wing throughout training camp. To that end, before the Pelicans game it was more catch-shoot-and-miss, but the results are ultimately moot. Malachi will have another opportunity to grow as a player with the 905 this season.
Jordan Loyd: C+
Loyd was kind of woof in his five appearances, but again, he’s likely to spend the year in Mississauga as an emergency fifth point guard on the roster. He stayed really active without the ball, continually moving on the offensive end and looking for the right spots. He also played decent enough defense.
Lorenzo Brown: B
I had hoped to see a new aspect to Brown’s game, but the king of the crossover stuck to what works. Brown’s ability to score the ball won’t wane during his years in Toronto, and that’s what has kept him on the roster. He played a lot more with the regular rotation than last year too, and that’s a really encouraging sign for both his development and acclimation as a full-time Raptor this year.
There was a single worrisome statistic from this preseason, and it was the Raptors’ sub-50% field-goal to assist ratio. After years of iso-offense, the likes of which Masai Ujiri damned to hell at the beginning of last season, the Raptors ranked 29th (per NBA.com’s resident statistician John Schuhmann) during the preseason in the above mentioned statistic. This could be absolutely nothing, or it could be something. I can’t see the future, but I thought it was worth bringing up to fans so they aren’t blindsided.
Updated style-of-play numbers through the completion of preseason last night. pic.twitter.com/I7rVlxSeGk— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) October 13, 2018
In terms of having his players on the same page though, Nick Nurse did a crackerjack job. No matter who was on the floor, they were playing fast, focused and not wasting shots in the mid-range. The team showed this consistent effort in all five games, and no matter the outcome we saw a lot of similarities in each.
In games, Nurse showed a willingness to either stick with certain lineups or put new looks on the floor (nothing new there), and not hesitate to give guys an equal opportunity to show what they could do. There’s really no going wrong when none of the games count, but in terms of being open-minded, Nurse was all right. I have little doubt that what we’ll see this year in regards to coaching will be an extension of the positives changes we saw last year.
It really was a fun training camp to watch: the offense that was reminiscent of last year’s third quarter blow outs with the Bench Mob; the defensive aces the Raptors acquired in July opening up a flurry of new looks and unlocking talents from other players we never knew existed — no matter your flavour, you probably got a taste of what’s to come this year.
Cheers to the Raptors’ 2018-19 season!