The next month of Raptors basketball will be a test to how badly they want the number one seed. With only a few important games planted in a big field of mediocrity, Toronto has an opportunity to win through apathy on a lot of nights. This week showed those signs, as the team went 2-1 against Milwaukee, Detroit, and Orlando — the Bucks loss coming in a game where they just made too many mistakes.
Consistent among it all, though, is the Raptors bench. Sample sizes are really damn big now, and it seems like more and more people are paying attention to how the young group controls stretches of games.
A total of 95 five-man lineups have logged at least 100 minutes this season. Best net rating/point differential among all of them: Toronto's bench mob (FVV/Wright/Siakam/Poeltl/Miles), outscoring opponents by almost 28 points per 100 possessions.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) March 1, 2018
Zach even used the “bench mob” moniker! We made it.
It’s safe to say the Raptors youngsters will always be there for the team, pushing the basketball, making the right pass, and burrowing deeper into our hearts. In fact, it’s starting to pain me to rank them. They’re all number one, like my children.
Yet... I must persevere.
3 Young Gunz of the Week
1. Pascal Siakam (last week: 1)
What a damn week for Pascal Siakam. The man had double digits in all three games, shooting 70%, 71%, and 78% to earn his 45 total points. He’s also putting digits into every other stat column, including blocks, steals, rebounds, and — my word — assists!
Yes, Pascal has advanced his game so far that he’s running point guard on secondary breaks, something that nobody expected coming into the season. The murmurs of poor man’s Draymond Green have grown louder, and Siakam is even channelling the Warriors’ undersized bruiser off the court.
Draymond Green bot apparently had to reboot pic.twitter.com/XoXkF1cfZd— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) May 4, 2016
Nobody of the young group even got close to Siakam this week, and he’s just a joyful presence on the basketball court. That his finesse is finally catching up with his athletic ability is somewhat unseen, yet totally welcome.
2. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 4)
Pascal is the sun, and Jakob is the moon — both lighting my life in different ways. These two came out of the break wanting the spotlight, and have earned it in different ways. While Pascal is stuffing the box score a little more, Poeltl is becoming a weak-side block machine. He had seven blocks in three games this week, and is always in the neighbourhood when opponents throw up that weak stuff.
The 13 point, eight rebound, five assist, two steal, and three block game against Orlando didn’t hurt his placement either.
3. Delon Wright (last week: 3)
Delon made some super-timely shots against Detroit, and continues to go about business in his understated fashion. He’s another player who quietly fills lines with rebounds, assists, and steals — a great help defender in half-court sets. His team-best +17 in the Pistons game tells the story for me.
The Other Guys
4. Fred VanVleet (last week: 2)
It was a down week for VanVleet’s shooting, right up until the Magic game, when he dropped 3-of-4 triples for his 12 points. As Reynolds put in this column last week, Fred is still the engine of the second unit, and probably the player that sneaks up on opponents most.
5. OG Anunoby (last week: 5)
An injury in the Magic game stopped an up-week for OG in its tracks. He was 6-for-8 in three games, and while that doesn’t indicate the volume is where the Raptors want it to be, he was making the looks available to him. We’ll see if this nagging ankle injury is anything to worry about in the seven days ahead.
6. Norman Powell (last week: 6)
With OG down, Norm’s star is set to rise. He gets way more minutes in games that Anunoby misses, as Dwane Casey resets to the starting lineup he had planned coming into the season. With Powell at starting forward, Toronto will need him to make shots; this week, he got a DNP-CD against Milwaukee and had a bonafide Sam Mitchell 0-0-0-0-0-0 line in ten minutes against Orlando. Similar to OG, the next seven days will be interesting for Norm’s stock.
7. Lucas Nogueira (last week: 7)
My big Brazilian guy is a garbage time player (or a foul trouble player). There’s not much to discuss here, as he didn’t play any impact minutes.
8. Malcolm Miller (last week: NR)
Malcolm got some extended run in the Detroit game once things were out of hand. He’s an interesting prospect, yet another tall, rangy player who has tools defensively. Miller even got the conversation going that he could take the minutes over any buyout candidate the team is targeting. Colour me intrigued!