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Raw Raptor Rankings Week 23: For playoff success, bet on yourself

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Two weeks remain in the regular season, and everyone’s thoughts are turning to awards... and the playoffs.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

There’s just two weeks and seven games left in the regular season. For the Toronto Raptors, it feels like a bit of a warmup for the playoffs. Seven games, with five of them against teams better than .500 and three of those against either Boston or Cleveland. If anyone is in need of a confidence boost, now is the time to get it.

A guy who doesn’t need the boost is Fred VanVleet. Again, the undrafted guard was the star of the Raptors’ second unit this week. He’s been the first example fans turn to when naysayers ask if this Toronto is really different than last year — and for good reason. The guy’s brand slogan is “Bet On Yourself”, and he lives up to those words. No moment has been too big for VanVleet this season, so you can bet the playoffs will be nothing new.

Now, here’s the weekly ranking of Fred and all the other young Raptors.

3 Young Gunz of the Week

1. Fred VanVleet (last week: 2)

In a 2-1 week for the Raptors, with wins over Brooklyn and Denver and a loss to the Clippers, VanVleet was a scoring monster. He had 16 points (50% shooting) against the Nets, 16 (67% shooting) against the Clippers, and 15 (71% shooting) against the Nuggets.

As Dwane Casey has become more trepidatious to play OG Anunoby in the second and fourth quarters, we’ve seen a slightly increased workload for Fred at the combo guard position. That peaked in the Brooklyn game, when he played a season-high 32 minutes (only DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry played more), and hoisted a bench-high 12 shots. You can see why he’s earning trust too. His lines are starting to show resemblance to Kyle Lowry, just as his playing style does. Assists, rebounds, even blocks — VanVleet can fill out a performance like few Raptors. That kind of play translates to playoffs, where strictly shooting might not. It’s why we should feel confident.

Also, is it a coincidence that VanVleet is number one for week 23 of the rankings? Is it?? (Nah, he really played that well).

2. Pascal Siakam (last week: 1)

It’s hard to come up with new things to say every week about Pascal Siakam, because he’s such a constant. We can say that he’s continued forward on his spectrum from human child to holographic Animorph , now making transition pocket passes to go with his trademark finishes.

Siakam scored in double-digits in all three games this week, with his best performance coming in the Clippers loss. 15 points (6-for-8, 2-for-2 from three), six rebounds, and an assist wasn’t enough to impact a rough team bench performance. It was constant, though, and his play continued and was important in the Denver win. Pascal’s another guy you can bet on.

3. Jakob Poeltl (last week: 4)

Poeltl wasn’t super awesome this week, playing just seven minutes in the Brooklyn game and scoring just five and posting a -14 against L.A. He did, however, show out against Denver.

The dunk of the year candidate (sorry, I’m not getting into the semantics of him throwing the ball in — it’s a damn dunk, you losers) was part of a 12 point (6-for-8), eight rebound, one block night for Poeltl. Though you can debate that there may be space for Bebe in the rotation, there’s no denying Poeltl’s activity level. When the bench started to play defense like it mattered late in the Nuggets win, Poeltl was right there as the anchor. It was encouraging.

The Other Guys

4. OG Anunoby (last week: 5)

Though OG has seen his minutes slashed a bit, rarely seeing the court in the fourth quarter, he had some decent performances this week. Enough to see the bright side, at least. With seven points, three rebounds, and an assist in just 16 minutes against Denver, I think there’s good reason to loosen the leash for the stretch run. The Norm Powell experiment minutes continue to yield little reward. I think the Raptors want OG as confident as possible going into the post-season, considering he’ll be their Game 1 starting small forward.

5. Delon Wright (last week: 3)

Delon had another down-week, struggling to score beyond a basket or two in all three games. Still, he was on the floor for that defensive showcase against Denver, and is another catalyst of manic activity even when he’s not scoring.

6. Lucas Nogueira (last week: 8)

More Bebe minutes! Lucas played well enough this week to earn a Fan Post right here on Raptors HQ, debating his potential for more minutes. Bebe had four points in 12 minutes against Brooklyn, posting a meaningful +10 — his best game of the week.

7. Norman Powell (last week: 6)

The last rotation player to earn minutes this week was Norm. There’s an apparent desire to earn playing time through defense, as Powell has been openly aggressive on that end. It isn’t translating to productive time, though, as he had just five minutes against Brooklyn, a DNP against L.A., and three minutes against Denver.