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Raw Raptor Rankings Week 17: A well-deserved break

Are you mad online that the Raptors’ youth are missing out on All-Star Weekend? Well, please calm down.

Toronto Raptors v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Forgive me for being a little bit apathetic about NBA All-Star Weekend. I’m becoming an older basketball fan I think — less interested in the cool dunks and more in screens and strategy and all that boring stuff. In fact, I’m so old that I agree with the even-older guys on national TV panels, who think All-Star Weekend has “gone soft” and “doesn’t matter”.

This is probably why I could give a hoot that none of the young Raptors were selected for the Rookie International Duel, or whatever they call that game now. In a weekend of meaningless basketball, even the Celebrity Showcase has more going for it than the Rookie-Sophomore Showdown (Win Butler getting two-handed layups literally never gets old). That the Raptors get a weekend off from being slandered is okay with me — given the 3-0 week they’re coming off of, I’m happy they’re getting all the rest they can get.

Now enough curmudgeonry! Let’s talk about the wins versus Charlotte, Miami and Chicago, and rank our beloved vacationing youth.

3 Young Gunz of the Week

1. Pascal Siakam (last week: 1)

This week, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were napping again. In two out of the three games, they were allowed to rest the entire fourth quarter — six of seven if we’re going back. This means a lot of run for Pascal Siakam, and boy is he running right now.

Siakam highlighted the week with one of his best games of the season against Chicago. His 17 points included a pair of three-pointers, he shot 78% from the field overall, and added six rebounds, two assists, and a steal.

Now the Draymond Green comparison note from last week was absolute hyperbole, but Siakam is demonstrably good handling the ball over the last two weeks. He’s evolved beyond straight line drives to the bucket, adding a touch of ball handling, and the ability to make the right pass.

Siakam is living proof that the Raptors may be right in their quiet trade deadline. They bet that players like Siakam still had room to improve before the season ended. With 25 games to go, Pascal becoming a fantasy basketball pickup is this exact kind of unforeseen boon. With lines like the Chicago game, and the 9/5/2/1 against Charlotte, his improvement is evident, and will hopefully continue after the All-Star break.

2. Fred VanVleet (last week: 2)

Nothing more steady than Freddie this week, who had games of 10 points (80% shooting), 10 points (50% shooting), and 11 points (36% shooting). The broadcast made a point that VanVleet was struggling in that last game versus Chicago, which is hilarious because... well, 36% is what we’d typically expect from Fred VanVleet heading into the season.

Even in that game, though, Fred showed exactly why he’s on such a tear. It’s the three-point shot, the extra pass, and the brutalist teamwork the Raptors continue to show.

3. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 4)

After Lowry-to-DeRozan alley-oops, the most sensational play the Raptors have in their arsenal are Jakob Poeltl blocks. He had six total this week, four in the Chicago game alone, and has this je ne sais quoi when he’s up for a swat.

The straight back, the perfect verticality, the volleyball spike. It’s all so magnifique. Poeltl was also one of only two bench mob members, along with VanVleet, to avoid a negative plus-minus in the headache-inducing Miami game. Another score for the big Austrian.

The Other Guys

4. Delon Wright (last week: 3)

Delon opened the week with an 0-for-4 game against Charlotte, but was an unsung hero against Miami and Chicago. With the Heat frustrating Jonas Valanciunas with their drives and offensive rebounds, Wright ended up the ultimate foil; his recoveries from the three-point line into the paint, boxing out Bam Adebayo on a couple occasions, allowed the Raptors to rip off the game-winning run in the third quarter.

Even when the stat lines don’t stand out, Delon does little things like this to make his 20 minutes a night worthwhile.

5. OG Anunoby (last week: 6)

After twisting his ankle against Charlotte, OG looked a step slow against Miami, struggling with his assignment on Goran Dragic. Though the would-be Heat All-Star can make any big defender look foolish, Anunoby was really no help, and the Raptors relied more on offense in the win.

OG was 2-for-6 from distance this week, but both those threes came in the team’s biggest win — the one where he struggled to defend in — so we’ll give him the fifth place pass this week.

6. Norman Powell (last week: 5)

While Powell got more minutes after the aforementioned ankle twisting, he didn’t do much with it. The two assists versus Charlotte was positive, as it showed Norm trusting the offense and not being single-minded, but only scoring two points in 16 minutes is a letdown.

We talk every week about his ability to fit and work hard, and we talk every week about the lack of opportunities. It’s the same story in Week 17.

7. Lucas Nogueira (last week: 8)

Less minutes for the starters means more garbage time for Bebe, who continued his streak of launching a three with the Raptors up by 20-plus. He missed it.

8. Alfonzo McKinnie (last week: 9)

McKinnie only played in the Chicago game, long after the win was sealed. He made his three-point attempt, though, which continued his streak. These bottom three continue to excite.

9. Malachi Richardson (last week: NR)

Welcome Toronto! Before his G-League assignment, Richardson got his first five minutes in the Charlotte game, going 1-for-2. While he’s doomed to be remembered as Bruno’s replacement (kidding), it’ll be fun to see what he brings to the 905.