December was tough to digest at times. The Raptors dropped some winnable games and the team’s injury count kept rising. Still, their month was salvaged by a late flurry of wins, with a better than break even record. Even at 28-11, we all knew at some point the Raptors would hit a rut. It was how they would respond to that rut that would give us a better idea of how deep, good, and threatening they could be in 2018-19.
Considering the injuries, Toronto’s form held up. Some could argue that the Kyle Lowry injury is a concern — but in another sense, it’s also a blessing. Coach Nick Nurse can now explore the who’s who of his bench guys. It gives opportunities to players like Norman Powell, who is starting to get the wheels to turn after missing 20 games with a partially dislocated shoulder. It allows C.J. Miles to show us his 2017 worth (hopefully). And it gives Fred VanVleet the space to function as the main runner of the ball and creator, which will give him confidence when Lowry does return.
It’s 2019 now, and these are good problems to have in Toronto. Still, considering all that, here’s what’s hot and not for this past week with the Raptors.
The Kawhi and Siakam Show
This week I’m dedicating the entire who’s hot section to Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam. Simply: they are in tremendous form and are keeping the Raptors afloat.
Let’s start with Kawhi. He went off for a career-high 45 points last night, on top of recent team highs of 30, 21, 27. Kawhi has scored 20-plus points in 14 consecutive games, the longest streak of his NBA career. His patience when he has the ball in his hand is a beautiful thing to watch especially when he’s at the top of the arc, bouncing, criss-crossing and then moving aggressively into a sea of defenders. Are we witnessing an MVP season?
Then there’s Siakam who, along with Kawhi, combined for 73 points against the Jazz. Siakam provided his own career-high with 28 points, and went 9-of-15 from the field (including 3-of-4 from deep). Siakam’s game keeps rising to new levels as the season progresses and one can hope that he can maintain it through the playoffs. His season has been so good you would think Pascal might sneak into an All-Star spot — if not, he’s at least someone to consider voting for. Yes, Siakam’s season has been that spicy.
Toronto’s December Record
Through 15 games in December the Raptors went 8-7. The losses: Nuggets, Nets, Bucks, Trailblazers, Nuggets, 76ers, Magic. The wins: Cavs, 76ers, Clippers Warriors, Pacers, Cavs (yes, again), Heat, Bulls. The Raptors should have (could have?) beaten the Nets in OT, the Magic (who are bad) and the Nuggets on December 3rd. (Some tremendously poor shooting from beyond the arc — 11-of-41 — and low energy doomed them). That said, losses are expected in an 82 game season and the Raptors did better than break even. We’ll call it a win (even if it feels weird to do so) considering they didn’t play their best basketball.
The C.J. Miles Trade Market
The 31-year old sharpshooter is lacking anything resembling a rhythm right now. Miles’ minutes are almost half of what he was playing in 2017. In the past five games he’s played just shy of 40 minutes and that includes two DNP-CDs.
Now, the erratic nature of Miles’ role has meant he hasn’t been able to roll in and shoot the lights out. Still, when given the time, like 25 minutes against the Magic, Miles has been ice cold. He went 1-of-9 from the field and 0-of-5 from beyond the arc in that Orlando game and continues to look lost. In 2018-19 he’s played more than 16 minutes in only seven games for the Raptors and is well down on court time compared to last year. Toronto could be looking for an upgrade somewhere on their roster, and with the trade deadline looming, I wonder if C.J. is one of the Raptors on the block.
Kyle Lowry’s Back
Lowry has missed eight of the last nine games with a sore lower back. It sounds like his absence started out as a precautionary measure which didn’t resolve itself; hence the trip to New York to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving injections.
The extended injury break is not a good spot for Lowry to be in. For the chunk of December in which he was playing, Lowry was still in the midst of ironing out his recent shooting slump. In his last seven outings, he’s gone 12-of-52 from deep, good for just 23 percent. Obviously the main priority is for Lowry to get his body right (especially in time for the playoffs). But the Raptors are still hoping he doesn’t miss too much time.