An 11-game win streak came to end this week and the Raptors lost to Cleveland. In any other year, I’d have gone to my room, turned the lights off, and shed some quiet tears over the doomed future and pure Raptors-ing to come.
But no more! I am a positive man, and a 2-2 week against Dallas, Oklahoma City, Orlando and Cleveland isn’t going to throw me off the projection that the Raptors will make some noise this post-season. My confident demeanour can be attributed to the Raptors’ young guys, who were steady when the starters (*cough* Serge Ibaka) weren’t, and continually kept Toronto in some fun games — even as they ended as losses.
So, with that in mind, let’s run down the list of rankings.
3 Young Gunz of the Week
1. Pascal Siakam (last week: 2)
Last week, I waxed poetic again about Pascal’s plus-minus numbers amid quiet actual numbers. The guy comes in and wakes everything up. This week, more than most, that was apparent — Serge Ibaka was a dead man walking through most of this tight schedule. Against Cleveland, on the second night of a back-to-back, he was unable to keep up with the pace of the ball movement. Luckily, the Raptors have an energy guy at his position on the bench.
Siakam gets my top spot this week for this second quarter stretch against the Cavaliers. He came in and did the things you expect now —some athletic drives to the rim, getting out in transition — and some you don’t, like guard LeBron James on the perimeter.
In fact, we got a preview of Toronto’s most likely matchup for LeBron come playoff time. While OG Anunoby will get the first shot, Siakam is actually a bit better suited physically. On one possession, he locked arms with The King and made it into a 90s off-ball shoving match. This kind of thing warms my heart.
2. Fred VanVleet (last week: 1)
Fred missed two games this week, but the games he did play in were really good. Against Cleveland, he had 16 points on 6-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-9 from three. In an overtime win against Dallas, he had 14 points and eight assists in 30 minutes.
This spot is addition by subtraction, though, as the Raptors looked a little lost without their bench anchor against the Thunder and Magic. While Delon Wright does some very good things, VanVleet is a bit more confident in his ability to stretch the floor. Some of his lines are even starting to resemble C.J. Miles, with three-point attempts up past six on most nights.
That’s fine too. The Raptors need VanVleet to keep betting on himself in order to make that seamless transition of confidence from regular season to post-season.
3. Delon Wright (last week: 3)
Delon, meanwhile, returned from an injury of his own to play in the last three games this week. Nothing he did really jumped out, but his lines were consistent:
15 points, 8 assists, 2 steals vs. OKC
10 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block vs. Orlando
12 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks vs. Cleveland
I like that Wright is starting to take more open jumpers with confidence, but his biggest asset continues to be his many functions on the court. He guards well, can play in three-guard lineups, and can be effective in more limited minutes (about 20 per game).
The Other Guys
4. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 4)
Poeltl’s best game of the week, against the Cavaliers, was not happenstance. When teams pressure the Raptors’ attacking players, Jak starts to feast. We’re starting to see more of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan with the bench unit, meaning in almost all of Poeltl’s minutes, there’s able bodies who can find him open in the paint. He’s a fluid finisher (we know that) and kept finding those pockets to score against Cleveland. Adding eight boards and a block was icing.
5. OG Anunoby (last week: 9)
OG returns! The starting lineup is back to what it once was, but OG’s best play is still somewhere back in December. His confidence has dropped a bit since then, and he had a rough ten minutes or so trying to guard LeBron James on Wednesday.
I don’t feel like there’s pressure to change the starting lineup right now, but OG is definitely in a funk. His plus-minus numbers — usually around even — are starting to show how his impact on the team is slipping.
6. Norman Powell (last week: 5)
What a joy it would be to see Norm Powell string some good games together. He only got into double digits once this week, ten points against Orlando, but was a -19 doing it. The starting block for Norm is do not turn the ball over. The shot, the layups, everything else will come if he can take care of the ball better.
7. Malcolm Miller (last week: 6)
Miller got a start against Orlando, but his minutes were short-lived as Dwane Casey started to dig into his bench for some energy. There wasn’t too much to go off for Malcolm this week.
8. Lucas Nogueira (last week: 7)
Meaningful Bebe minutes! As part of the aforementioned Orlando spark, Lucas got into the game for 17 minutes and posted a +16. He got a couple cool dunks out of it too.
9. Lorenzo Brown (last week: NR)
Lorenzo got meaningful minutes too! He dropped a wide open triple and got the quietest +23 I’ve ever seen.