The Raptors doubled down on continuity this week. They held steady at the trade deadline, only making a small deal on the periphery (though a big deal on the periphery of our hearts) by sending Bruno Caboclo to Sacramento. By not making any bigger moves, though, they showed their support for the bench unit and continued internal growth.
As far as last-minute pitches go, the actual players didn’t do a bad job selling themselves either. The Raptors went 4-0 this week, with wins over Portland, Memphis, Boston(!), and New York. In each and every one of those games, the bench was the hero. They notched massive plus-minus marks, scrambled opponents defensively, and made shots at a better clip than the starters. In the pivotal Boston game — which was unconvincingly sold as “just another game” from the team — Toronto got everyone in on the action. The bench played big, the starters played big, and the Raptors ran the (second) best team in the East over by 20 points.
If this is going to be the new normal for the Raptors, things are looking up. The bench was a bit shaky in January, but has come on strong in February. With six more winnable games before the All-Star break, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful few weeks for our youth movement.
Now let’s get to the rankings.
3 Young Gunz of the Week
1. Pascal Siakam (last week: 4)
Pascal still can’t shoot, but it hardly matters. This week, he showed a consistent ability to drive by, and run by, pretty much everyone on the court. His effortless plays in transition are now augmented by a potent driving game; against the Knicks on Thursday, Dwane Casey even trusted him to play point on a few possessions.
This is heady stuff from a player who couldn’t control his limbs one calendar year ago. Siakam’s best game of the week was against the Knicks (14 points, six assists, five rebounds), but he also dropped 13 against Portland and had heads spinning against the Celtics.
Pascal’s speed is such an integral part of the bench’s success. He can create mayhem under the basket, force turnovers, and both start and finish transition opportunities. This week, we saw a bit of everything, which is enough to hop into the top spot.
2. Fred VanVleet (last week: 1)
VanVleet continues to be the shooting star of the bench lineup. He’s advanced the most from the beginning of the season until now, and there’s no longer any issue trusting him with the basketball. He had a memorable 16 points and five rebounds against the Blazers, shooting 3-for-5 from distance. Following that up, he had 13 points and a +25 mark against Memphis, 10 points and a +17 mark against Boston, and ten points with a +18 mark against New York.
Simply, when Fred is in the game, the Raptors seem to go on runs. His Lowry copycat game also ensures there’s continuity from first to second unit.
Kyle Lowry is too talented to care all the time, that's why the Raptors have Kyle Lowry 2.0 on the bench— John Gaudes (@johngaudes) February 9, 2018
Steady Freddie might be burdened as a Young Gun forever.
3. Delon Wright (last week: 6)
After a lousy week, Delon bounced back in the four latest outings. He was a truly ridiculous +36 in the Memphis game, even while scoring just ten points. These kind of numbers go to the point made above — the change of pace being provided by the bench is just messing up opponents.
Wright is good for the Euro-steps, of course. What’s really helpful is his place as a second point guard in both bench and starter lineups. Having more playmakers helps juice the Raptors’ ball movement, and Wright barely ever makes the wrong pass.
The Other Guys
4. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 5)
Poeltl’s entry into European professional volleyball this week was unexpected, but welcome.
Jakob went 6-for-7 against the Knicks for his best game, even earning a post-game interview with his buddy PSkills. Adorable.
5. Norman Powell (last week: 3)
Powell got a chance last week with C.J. Miles out, but that dissipated this week as #BenchDad returned. A 5-for-7 game against Portland was the standout, but it seems like opportunity will dictate when Norm plays again, not necessarily his play on the court.
6. OG Anunoby (last week: 2)
With the bench playing so well, the lone youth starter seems to disappear at times. His shot has been a struggle, and he’s become a one-dimensional offensive player since joining that first five. While he didn’t crack double digits this week, he filled out the little plays that you expect.
7. Alfonzo McKinnie (last week: NR)
The difference between McKinnie and Bebe this week? One made field goal, which Alfonzo made in the Portland blowout. It was a three-pointer too, which looked smooth as hell. Keep on keeping on in the 905.
8. Lucas Nogueira (last week: 7)
Now the lone Brazilian in Toronto, Bebe only saw sparing garbage time minutes again this week — and we don’t know how he’ll react to being the only show in town. The social media phenom duo has dispersed too, which makes my life a little sadder.
Well, we started this column with the idea that Bruno would find his way into the rotation and start climbing in 2017-18. Obviously that didn’t happen, and now our dreams have staggered to a halt: Bruno has been traded to Sacramento.
While we’ll always have the Milwaukee quarter, and the endless requests for minutes in garbage time thereafter, Caboclo’s career is more than a passing joke for Raptors fans. This is a kid who’s worked hard not just to play basketball, but learn basketball. He’s been a force with Raptors 905, and has carved out a niche at that level. Now, he’ll get a chance to actually earn a roster spot in Sacramento — something the guys listed above wouldn’t have allowed in Toronto. All the best to our milk moustache hero.