After last week’s Toronto Temperature publication, Toronto was set to play the Minnesota Timberwolves in a much anticipated game. It was basically the first game that Kawhi Leonard would match up with another superstar player — Jimmy Butler — and the results were incredible, as you would imagine.
With a total of four games in the last seven days, the fans were able to see a wide range of performances up and down the Raptors roster. Only a few of the team’s players were consistently effective over the course of the seven day stretch, however. We’re going to recount a few of those special games and in the process try to nail down which players are molten lava, and which are simply having hot flashes.
Again, it’s very hard to designate any player on a 7-1 team as “cold,” so like last week, I’ll preface the list by saying these rankings are extremely relative.
Ibaka has deserved a spot on this list all season and that spot is finally his after finishing Monday’s game scoring 30 points in a losing effort. The total may not like seem like a benchmark worth getting excited over, until you realize that it was the first time Ibaka scored at least 30 points in nearly two years — the last time being November 13th, 2016 as a member of the Orlando Magic.
Nobody is quite certain what has brought out this version of the Congolese giant, but whatever it is, here’s hoping it never changes. Not only is Ibaka averaging 16.6 points per game on the year, he’s pitching in nearly eight rebounds as well. And in his past four? An even 18 and 8. There is absolutely no question — Ibaka has been a critical figure in the Raptors’ early season dominance.
Sticking in the post, we turn next to Ibaka’s frontcourt mate, Siakam. A totally different style of player, Pascal is finding ways to contribute in ways that are well beyond his experience. Now running the break, Siakam is playing more like a fleet-footed wing than a post player, and that versatility has helped him take advantage of mismatches up and down the rotation.
In his last two games, Siakam has turned in two the greatest games of his young career, showing off a potential soft scoring touch, as well as a ferocity rebounding the ball. Once he manages to gel all of these dynamic skills into one nightly package, Siakam could be one of the Raptors most dangerous players (dare I say, Andrei Kirilenko-esque?). In his last four games, Pascal is averaging 14.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 steals. The better news? He’s begun to hit his free throws.
“How Lenny Got His Groove Back.”
Okay, really bad movie title pun. But the point remains: Kawhi Leonard’s shooting touch is back in full force, posting shooting averages of .552 from the field, .417 from deep, and .900 from the foul line over his last three games played. In case you missed it, that’s the ever-vaunted 50/40/90 split that so many great scorers chase like there’s no tomorrow.
Scoring an average of 29 points on just 19 shots per game, Leonard is redefining efficient scoring for Toronto basketball, and it’s not just points he’s contributing. His on ball defensive skills are rounding into form too, averaging 3.0 steals and a full block in that same 3-game span. The MVP chants are justified, right now — and I see no reason why they won’t be in six months.
In a way, the movie pun just might actually work: Kawhi flies to Canada for what most believe will be a vacation, only to find true love in the city of Toronto. Yeah, I like it. How Lenny got his groove back.
The Bench Mob
I’m only going to write about the bench as a whole here, and not a singular player. I don’t want to point any fingers or single a specific guy out because that’s honestly not what’s happening. Injuries, shooting slumps, re-acclimating different players into the system — they’ve all contributed to the most used all-bench unit having a net rating of -28.7 on the season.
There’s no reason to panic, however, as it’s only been eight games. With the amount of veterans on the bench this season, there’s little question that the group will find it’s rhythm, and with Jonas Valanciunas playing some of the best basketball of his life, it’s really hard to imagine a situation where they won’t be a vital part of this team winning ball games. Keep the hope everyone — we have an extremely talented team here, despite the shortcomings.
Our Feelings about the Milwaukee Bucks
After handing the Raptors their first loss of the season in demoralizing fashion, we here in Toronto are suitably chilled towards the Milwaukee Bucks. That’s all I’m going to say about that.