No matter what NBA team you follow, the trade deadline is full of existential questions. For the Raptors, it seems to be an annual tradition that the team takes a step back, and those existential questions get louder.
We’ve hammered home the two big issues with this team, despite all their mirth. The star players struggle in the clutch. In some scenarios, this isn’t helped by poor play-calling or a lack of execution from supporting players (see Serge Ibaka’s two big misses last night). The other issue is maybe more fixable heading toward the playoffs: the Raptors lack shooters on a volume-shooting team.
Toronto is sixth in the NBA in three point attempts per game, but 25th in percentage. Players who were pegged as off-ball players before the season have had their struggles; guys like Norman Powell (30%), OG Anunoby (36.7%), and C.J. Miles (37.2%). Bringing someone in could help that.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. As Sportsnet’s Michael Grange observes, there’s just not many names that would fit within the Raptors’ trade exceptions that would be worth trading young talent. If there was a move made, it would be a clear sign that Masai Ujiri doesn’t have faith young players will evolve further — maybe Pascal Siakam is a shooter in 2020, or Fred VanVleet actually stops getting haircuts and morphs into Kyle Lowry.
In the end, it looks like the Raptors will stand pat. So we watch the young guys, and hope they can keep growing. They’ve provided us with a lot of fun moments, now we’ll see if they can provide some clutch ones.
Let’s rank the young Raptors after a 2-2 week.
3 Young Gunz of the Week
1. Fred VanVleet (last week: 1)
Another top spot for Steady Freddie this week, and well-deserved. I discussed in last night’s recap how his presence creates balance in the bench lineups, especially because he’s become a reliable shooter. In fact, over the last ten games, Fred is shooting 52% from beyond the arc, with only Lowry (7.8) and Miles (7.1) attempting more than his 3.6 per game.
Just like OG Anunoby was before the new year, VanVleet is becoming an archetypal off-ball shooter for the Raptors, and it’s allowed him to be successful. He dropped 25 points in Sunday’s game vs. the Lakers, leading the whole damn team.
I also love watching VanVleet’s drives, which remind me a bit of J.J. Barea back in the mid-2000’s. He’s diminutive, but can immediately get a big on his hip between ten and 15 feet from the basket. His finishing ability after that point has improved greatly, and he’s starting to make more of those “how did he get those off” layups in traffic.
He also, we’d be remiss to say, became a dad this week. Everything’s shining for Fred VanVleet, and he’s truly earning that steady nickname with his offensive play.
2. OG Anunoby (last week: 2)
Anunoby remains solid defensively, but showed signs of life on the offensive end this week. The highlight was Thursday’s game against Washington, where he had three triples in the first quarter and 11 points altogether.
I also enjoy seeing OG get into traffic and mix it up. The Raptors have lost a bunch of rebounding battles over the past couple weeks, and Anunoby is one of those players that deserves more minutes for his hustle alone. Twice a game, he’ll slither his way into the paint and grab something for an easy putback — his 1.1 offensive rebounds per game over the last ten has him up there with the bigs (and noted pain-in-the-ass Kyle Lowry).
3. Norman Powell (last week: 6)
It’s impossible not to have Norm soaring up this rankings. His defensive effort alone in the Minnesota and Washington games has me drooling a bit, as he put a lid on Jimmy Butler and Bradley Beal.
The broadcast points this out, but it bears repeating: Powell is just one of those guys that grows in confidence when he gets minutes. With C.J. Miles out with knee soreness, Powell jumped to 26 minutes in the Wizards and Wolves games. He responded, making 6-of-11 from the field and 16 points, dialling in a few threes for gravy.
I think Norm knows this though: it’s the defensive effort that will win Dwane Casey’s heart back. His hawking nature rivals Lowry and Anunoby when it’s on, and while he might not have the lateral quicks to truly bottle up a player, the effort is welcome when Toronto needs jumper cables.
The Other Guys
4. Pascal Siakam (last week: 5)
Once again, our “Other Guys” section isn’t ripe with loaded stat lines. Of the four players here who got regular minutes, though, Siakam looked to make the most impact in his minutes on the floor.
I enjoy Pascal’s confidence on the floor, which continues to grow. There are plays in all-bench lineups where he’s able to put it on the floor and pressure the defense. He can go from that to finishing, or making the next pass.
5. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 4)
Poeltl and Siakam are a tandem in what they provide, but Jakob struggled with foul trouble in a couple games this week. He had three in the first 14 minutes against Washington, which limited his impact and forced the Raptors into Bebe minutes.
It’s unfortunate, but Poeltl still struggles with a cheap whistle sometimes. Otherwise, his impact is steady.
6. Delon Wright (last week: 3)
A tough week for Delon shooting and finishing at the rim. His best game was against the Lakers (10 points), but he struggled against the defences of Minnesota and Washington. A combined 0-for-8 proved that, and the Raptors needed more from Wright in VanVleet’s absence. Not much to worry about here, though — Delon hasn’t shown any signs that he can’t bounce back.
7. Lucas Nogueira (last week: 7)
A light week for Nogueira, who only got into the Wizards game because of Poeltl’s foul trouble. He was a bit spacey in his three minutes, and got a quick hook in favour of a smaller lineup. Right now, Lucas is in that “break in case of emergency” spot.
8. Lorenzo Brown (last week: NR)
I like the idea of Lorenzo Brown’s game. He plays hard, defends earnestly, and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. In the Wizards game, though, he started getting outside of his game — and didn’t stretch that confidence far enough to take open shots. He doesn’t really want to shoot, and that obviously limits his impact.