It’s been an early season of impressive feats thus far for the Toronto Raptors — whether it was defeating the rival Boston Celtics, or defeating LeBron James and the Lakers, only to dismantle the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, on a SEGABABA — without Kawhi Leonard for either. While this week was a great litmus test of just how incredible these Raptors can be when totally focused, tonight’s game in Sacramento might be the win we need to see the most.
They’ve been on the road for almost a week now, and in that time have traveled across the West Coast of the United States — including from Southern California to Utah overnight — with sleep being a scarce commodity, along with practice time. So, if the Raptors can take home a victory in Sacramento, against a surprisingly effective Kings team, I think everyone can get a good night’s sleep — especially the team themselves.
Sacramento comes into tonight’s game at 6-4, good for 5th in the West. The group is buoyed by the young backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, who are combining to score nearly 40 points per game. Fox looks like he’s taken a serious leap compared to last year, when he was an ineffective point guard who missed shots and could hardly get the offense off the ground.
Thanks to improved shooting, Fox now is creating offense with both his shot and his passing, evident by his 30-point triple-double just last week. Hield on the other hand has been the main recipient of those assists, and he’s averaging a whopping .480 from 3-point range, on five attempts per night.
The Raptors will have their hands full defensively this evening, so we’re hoping Kawhi Leonard suits up (which all signs currently point to him doing).
Anywho, here are your details for tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
TSN, 10:00pm EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Sacramento — De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Iman Shumpert, Nemanja Bjelica, Willie Cauley-Stein
Toronto — Kawhi Leonard (ankle — questionable), Norman Powell (shoulder — doubtful)
Sacramento — Bogdan Bogdanovic (knee — questionable)
Why are the Kings 6-4?
This should be your first question heading into tonight’s game. It’s been a strange start to the season for a clearly bad and should-be tanking Kings team, but it’s not inexplicable. Despite rostering a group of literal children, the Kings have been shooting the lights out like grown men.
Within their starting lineup, three players are shooting better than .530 from the field. Of those three players (Hield, Bjelica and Cauley-Stein), Hield and Bjelica are averaging better than .480 from deep, and account for 4.5 made 3-pointers per game.
What can we take from this information? This torrid start probably won’t last. The Kings are currently second in the NBA in shooting percentage — sitting at .497 from the field — but are allowing 119 points per game on the other end. So despite shooting the ball better than 98 percent of the league, they’re still getting outscored per game on average. That’s a recipe for “regression toward the mean.”
Kyle Lowry: The MVP
A lot has been made of Kyle Lowry as an MVP candidate this year, and thanks to myself basically spamming Raptors Twitter with an image comparing his current stats to Steve Nash’s MVP seasons, “someone” eventually noticed.
So, is he an MVP candidate? Probably not, but he is Finals MVP material. Steve Nash was a two-time MVP in an era where the outcome of a game would be the halftime score in today’s NBA. What he did was transcendent and almost 15 years ahead of its time, and it should be noted that a lot of folks consider those MVP’s illegitimate.
So, while it’s fun to compare Kyle Lowry’s 11-game streak to a former MVP, let’s not get ahead of ourselves (I’m talking to myself, mainly) by calling Lowry an MVP candidate — the league is just too saturated and stat-happy for it to be a reasonable possibility.
Get Used to Ibaka
One thing should be certain though: Ibaka is a man possessed. Through 11 games, he’s averaging nearly double the amount of shots at the rim than he took last season — that’s a sustainable figure. He’s averaging nearly 80 percent on those shots — that’s not so sustainable, but with the volume there, he has a great shot at keeping his head above water offensively on most nights.
Compare that to last season: Ibaka shot nearly 40 percent of his total shots from 3-point range. He was wildly ineffective when he did get the ball in the post, and looked like he had no idea what to do when he received a pass. This year, his role is crystal clear — set picks, and roll hard. Not only has he been doing those two things nearly perfect — he’s also putting himself in strategic position more times than not.
All in all, Ibaka is back. He’s Serge I-back-a, and he looks here to stay.