On the second night of a back-to-back, without a resting Kawhi Leonard and an injured Delon Wright, you might have thought the shorthanded Toronto Raptors would drop one to a Washington Wizards team desperate for a win before heading out on a road trip.
But then you also might’ve thought, hey, it’s the Wizards, the Raptors have nothing to worry about. And you’d’ve been right.
OK, These Lineups are Weirding me Out
I can appreciate Nick Nurse’s desire to experiment and to find out what he’s got with his team. And, that it was a back-to-back so he had to find some guys some rest.
But I don’t know about the decision to start Norman Powell, and I’m equally unsure about the decision to start C.J. Miles in Powell’s place in the second half. I’m definitely sure that playing Lorenzo Brown nine minutes was way too much.
Throughout the game, we saw a lot of mixing and matching. Ten Raptors played, and the game saw 22 different five-man lineups. The starters only played 12 minutes together, and there was a five-man bench unit that played 6 minutes; otherwise no five-man group played more than four together. (By contrast, Washington also played 10, but only 17 lineups; their two most-used groups played 17 and 12.)
Beyond that, we saw a good chunk of Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka together (23 minutes) which is still an odd sight. These two only played 176 minutes together in 59 games last season; they’re clearly not used to each other.
I don’t know that a full-on platoon approach like last year is the way to go, but I’m still a believer that NBA players need some consistency and need to know what’s expected and who they’re playing with in order to develop a rhythm. I’m not seeing it so far, and while it’s too early for it to be a concern, it’s sticking in the back of my mind.
At least we got a good chunk of Fred VanVleet and Siakam together last night. Their chemistry just makes me swoon.
Kyle Lowry is a Bad Man
I wrote about Kyle Lowry yesterday so I won’t add too much more here, but what’s awesome about Lowry’s stellar play is that traditionally, he’s a slow starter; as Josh Lewenberg pointed out on Twitter, Lowry had only shot 35% in his career in October before this year.
Well, he’s shooting 61% this October, including 60% from downtown, for 23.3 points along with 8.7 assists. Last night Lowry was the best player on the floor for either team, and his final 3:30 told the tale—he drew a charge on a red-hot Bradley Beal, drained a back-breaking triple, made two incredibly difficult layups in traffic and snagged the offensive rebound that led to the video review that led to the jump ball that led to VanVleet’s miracle heave (phew).
If you want to tell me Kawhi Leonard has been the “best” player for the Raptors this season, I won’t argue, but I guarantee they aren’t 3-0 without Kyle Lowry.
Is There a Less Enjoyable Team to Watch than the Wizards?
There are some bad teams in this league; heck, the Raptors were one of them for a long time, and I’ve watched some truly bad games.
But this Wizards team is just miserable to watch. They play like a bunch of strangers. They complain—a lot. They puff out their chests and mean mug—a lot, even though they’ve never actually accomplished anything. And they talk like they have! And they should be good—Beal and John Wall are supremely talented and Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. can play—but they always seem to underachieve. Do they even enjoy playing basketball?
Don’t get me wrong, the inevitable meltdown featuring a Beal tech and a Scott Brooks ejection was amusing, but geez. I’m glad the Raps consistently each their lunch.
(Also? Pour one out for poor Jason Smith, who spent the night getting pounded by Jonas Valanciunas, got absolutely destroyed by Fred VanVleet on a drive, and then picked up a tech of his own for good measure. I think he retired after the game.)
Curse Jokes Aside, What’s Going on with C.J. Miles?
At first I was willing to chalk up C.J. Miles’ struggles to new teammates and chemistry.
Then he passed up a wide open three-pointer in the first quarter. When Miles is passing up open threes, you know something’s wrong.
Miles took seven shots last night, and only one of them was a three-pointer. He’s 5-for-16 on the year, and 1-for-8 from downtown. And he came into camp in great shape! And this team has so many threats, he should be getting plenty of open looks! What’s the problem?
I think the lineups have a bit to do with it. As the Raps are figuring things out, it’s not clear that Miles—or his teammates—know what his role should be on the floor. I also worry that Miles is worried about his minutes, knowing that the Raps are deep at the wing with good three-point shooters (who are better defenders than he is) and he’s trying to do too much.
Or maybe it just a damn curse. All I know is—I’d rather take “shameless gunner” C.J. than “try and do everything” C.J.
How Much Patience do we Have for Things to Gel?
The Raptors committed 17 turnovers, gave up 38 points in the paint and 34 fast break points, and 18 wide-open (closest defender 6+ feet away) three pointers and an additional 15 open (closest defender 4-6 feet away) three pointers. (The Wizards took 39 threes in total, which if my math is right, means 33 of them were open looks.)
These are things that crop up when players aren’t used to playing with each other and don’t have their plays and schemes down pat.
For the Raptors, these breakdowns aren’t unexpected; they’ve got a new coach, new players (one of whom, Leonard, has a gravity the Raptors have never had) and an injury to a key reserve. Things are different and players need time to adjust.
How much time is the question. How long is the leash? Five games? 10?
The other concern? The Raptors are winning, despite playing poorly at times, because they’re deep and talented. But depth and talent won’t always win the day. Winning masks a lot; you don’t want the Raptors to develop bad habits and start thinking things are going well.
We can all agree it’s too soon to worry. But it won’t be forever.
That feels like a lot of complaints after a shorthanded road win! This is what the Wizards bring out of you, I swear. 3-0, even an ugly 3-0, is still awesome. Let’s hope the Raps keep it going Monday when the Hornets come to town.