Welcome to a preseason edition of the Toronto Temperature! As the Raptors get warmed up for the real season, we here at Raptors HQ are getting our typing fingers and our hot takes back into shape as well.
Now you might be thinking, the preseason doesn’t matter, so why should we care who’s hot or cold in these meaningless games? But for the players on the edges of NBA rosters — your Malcolm Millers, for example — a hot or cold preseason can mean the difference between making the team, getting a two-way or G League deal, or searching for a deal overseas.
So with that said, let’s check in on the temperature:.
Terence Davis, Betting on Himself
Because we love our player comps, we often find ourselves asking “who’s going to take a Siakam-like leap?” or “who’s going to the next Fred VanVleet?” An undrafted rookie free agent guard, Davis seems to be fitting the bill of the latter.
Davis’ aggression in the first three preseason games has been exhilarating. Sure, he’s probably doing too much — especially as a backup point guard, which is the spot he’s nominally been in, he could benefit from slowing down just a touch. But that lack of fear is also his biggest asset at this point. He’s not afraid to challenge any defence, he’s not afraid of banging bodies, and he’s not afraid to take a shot.
Is that lack of fear enough to guarantee him a spot on the big club at this point? He might need some time with the 905 to add a little seasoning to his game, especially if the Raptors do intend for him to play PG — but without another suitable third PG on the roster right now, Davis might have earned himself a regular season look.
Norman Powell, Scorching the Nets
I wrote about Norman Powell’s big opportunity a few weeks back, and so far, he’s not disappointed. He’s played in two games, starting at the two-guard spot in both — a spot that is his to earn, by all accounts — and scored 18 ppg on an insane 81.1 true shooting percentage, including 7-of-10 from three-point range. He’s only turned the ball over once in his 39 minutes played! As far as I can tell, he’s made a perfect audition as the team’s starting shooting guard.
But we can’t dismiss the “its the preseason” caveat, especially with Powell, who’s been nothing if not inconsistent in his career to date. Two strong performances in the preseason should earn him the first look at starting at the two, but he’ll have to keep up the solid play when the games count to keep it.
(Personally, I really hope he does; I’ve been a huge fan of Norm’s since he got here, and I really want to see him put it together and play a meaningful role on the team this year.)
Pascal Siakam, Scoring at Will
On his podcast with grumpy Jeff Van Gundy this week, Zach Lowe said “I think Siakam is gonna have a huge year, and prove that last season was not only not a fluke, but that he has another level to hit, and he’s gonna hit it this year.”
High praise from one of the smartest NBA writers around, and Siakam’s performance in Tokyo certainly shouldn’t leave any doubts. He scored 40 points in the two games, on 13-of-27 shooting, and it was almost entirely effortless. The man is just brimming with confidence, and the game looks to be coming incredibly easy to him. You love to see it.
If there’s an area where Siakam might have shown a drop-off, it’s on defense; he seemed a step slow against the Rockets. It’s hard to get too concerned, since it’s only two meaningless games, but defense often slides when players need to take on a greater offensive role, which Siakam is clearly poised to do.
Kyle Lowry, Thumb War Veteran
Kyle Lowry’s bank account is plenty hot, thanks to his new contract extension. And Lowry himself still has that championship glow that warms everyone around him — even if he himself remains lovably grumpy.
But he hasn’t played a minute of basketball since Game 6 of the NBA Finals thanks to the thumb injury he suffered in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals.
There’s hope that Lowry will play in Friday’s game, the last preseason game before the season starts on Tuesday. If he does play, is that enough to shake off the rust? And if he doesn't, what does it mean for the team’s start?
Given the rumours swirling that Masai Ujiri may look to blow this team up if they start slow and aren’t in real contention, how soon Lowry plays — and how well he plays — could have a significant impact on the team.
Wing Depth, Lacking
Toronto’s preseason roster is stuffed with wings, both old and new. And while the two longest-tenured wings (Norman Powell, OG Anunoby) have played well, none of the new acquisitions (or holdovers Patrick McCaw and Malcolm Miller) have made much of an impact.
This is certainly true on offense. We can all agree that — on paper! — McCaw, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are better defensive players than offensive ones, but the team can’t rely solely on Pascal Siakam to score; it needs wings to hit outside shots. Hollis-Jefferson has only taken one three-pointer (and missed), and Johnson? Well, he’s 1-for-2 from downtown... but 1-for-10 overall in the preseason! McCaw, Cameron Payne, Oshae Brissett and Matt Thomas are a combined 6-for-27 from three point range. That’s a lotta bricks, folks!
And as for defense? Well, don’t take it from me:
I asked Nick Nurse about how the new guys are fitting in, namely Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. This was not exactly a ringing endorsement: pic.twitter.com/GqAsHTCISc— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) October 16, 2019
It’s a small sample size (take a breath, and repeat it while looking at yourself in the mirror) but there’s only one preseason game left for these guys (at least one?) to make a mark.
Me, Hopefully, on October 22
I’m going to opening night, and I hope it’s freezing cold in Toronto that day. Why? So I can wear 10 layers of championship gear.
I know I’ll have trouble deciding which of the awesome t-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, jackets and hats I bought (seriously, I bought a lot). If the weather’s cold? And rainy? I have the excuse I need to wear all of it. Or at least close to it.
There’s also a pretty good chance my wallet will be cold by the end of the game. Who knows what other championship merch I’ll find at the team store? Or maybe, maybe I’ll finally find that Kyle Lowry authentic jersey with the gold championship patch I’m looking for? Fingers crossed!