The Toronto Raptors are winners again! Toronto went 2-1 in the week since our last check-in with wins against Chicago and Orlando while falling to the Celtics in a close but sloppy game. Roles are becoming more clearly defined and what’s working and what clearly isn’t (see: defensive rebounding) are starting to round into form.
With that, it’s still very early into the season and the Raptors were finally able to trot out a fully healthy roster. It’s becoming quite evident that Nick Nurse has his bench preference fairly set in stone, as Patrick McCaw’s return pushed newcomers Stanley Johnson and Matt Thomas (who played well against Chicago) out of the rotation.
So who crushed it? Who chunked it? Let’s find out! But first, here’s FVV obliterating Markelle Fultz’ ankles on a hesitation step-back.
OG Anunoby, Defensive Player of the Year
Is it real? Is it finally happening? Are we finally being graced with a fully healthy and all the way recovered from his ACL tear and every other injury inflicted upon him last year OG Anunoby? It sure as hell looks like it!
OG did everything right this week. On offense, he’s driving with purpose whereas he might have found himself careening out of control in previous seasons. He’s canning (and importantly, not hesitating on) open threes when the ball is swung to him. He’s even started to exhibit some excellent playmaking decisions, not to mention his usual solid off-ball cutting.
And then there’s the defense. OG is third in the NBA in Defensive Points Saved according to nbamath.com trailing only reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony “All of a Sudden I Care About Defense” Towns. Quite frankly, he’s just everywhere on the court.
OG Anunoby in the last two games: 6 blocks, 6 steals pic.twitter.com/GcP33cPrtr— William Lou (@william_lou) October 29, 2019
If OG can keep up this level of play, there’s absolutely no reason why he can’t be in the discussion for DPOY and if he’s in the discussion for that award, then surely he’ll win MIP, right?!
Kyle Lowry, A Lot of Everything
If you didn’t know, and come on, you really should by now, the Toronto Raptors are as great as they are because of Kyle Lowry. This was true during the DeMar-era, the Kawhi-era and still is in the post-Kawhi era. There is just no possession that isn’t stamped with his impact unless he’s on the bench. Whether he’s directing traffic, barking at officials, or, you know, dropping 22-7-5 over the three game stretch, all while taking charges, fronting big men in the post and throwing three-quarter-court alley-oop passes.
The accuracy of this Lowry pass pic.twitter.com/q4AdAbRuoN— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) October 26, 2019
Somewhat troubling in all of this Lowry heat is that he’s playing, like all of the Toronto starters outside of the centre platoon of Gasol and Ibaka, a lot of minutes early on in the season. With both Lowry and FVV starting, Nurse is going to have to use his bench to soak up some of those PG minutes — hey, welcome back Patrick McCaw!
Pascal Siakam, Model of Consistency
There is no way that Pascal Siakam is not going to be an All-Star this year. If I were to be so bold, I bet he’d even make the squad if he was playing in the West; he’s just that good. When you’re that good, you also have to realize that the rest of the league will be keying in on you a lot more and Pascal has put in the work knowing what’s coming for him.
At this point, the whole league knows about Siakam’s spin move. What has Spicy P done with that intel? Well...
Pascal Siakam spins off Jonathan Isaac for the easy layup pic.twitter.com/xtNpwGxtXe— GoatWorldSports (@GoatWorldSport1) October 29, 2019
If you’re Johnathan Isaac, what are you supposed to do here? Siakam has become so adept at reading what his defender is expecting out of him, that his counter moves are borderline un-guardable with his combination of size and speed.
Admittedly, there are still two areas in which he can improve: turnovers and foul rate. While having the ball in your hands more often will certainly lead to more turnovers, Pascal needs to tighten up his decision making on both ends of the court to be a true NBA superstar.
Marc Gasol Needs A Rest
Let this be a disclaimer to this section, Marc Gasol has looked better with each passing game. But the bar started so low, it isn’t necessarily an indicator of his actually playing well. Conditioning seems to be the main issue for Gasol and, tied into that, it might just be a hearty case of the olds.
Outside of when the games matter, Gasol cannot be expected to stick with mobile bigs on the perimeter as he was barbecued by Lauri Markkanen, Jonathan Isaac and the young and bouncy Boston big men. What Nurse can expect on the defensive end from Gasol is multiple contests on more ground-bound centres (e.g. Nikola Vucevic) and outside of a smattering of plays, Marc just hasn’t put a whole lot of them together at this stage of the season.
On the offensive end, Gasol looks to be back to his pensive ways when he joined the Raptors last year. His stat lines have either been low efficiency with medium volume shooting or high efficiency with next to no volume — neither a great look. As with last week, it just seems like Gasol could use a week or two in Spain with some “back soreness” in order to come back rejuvenated for the remainder of the season.
Norman Powell, A Mixed Bag
Take a drink if you’ve seen a huge, clutch shot from Norm. Crush a cold shot if you saw him come down the floor on the next play, leave his feet and throw the ball to the opposing team or out of bounds. Are you drunk yet? You’re drunk.
Norm is a mystifying case. It’s incredibly easy to state that the Raptors don’t win it all last year without some timely big plays from Powell. When we’re talking about regular season Norm though, he just can’t seem to string together anything positive with consistency. And yet, herein lies the mysticism — Norm finished last year averaging 40 percent from 3 and 16.5 ppg Per 36 last year while this year (albeit four games in) he’s averaging 19 percent from 3 and 8.4 ppg and a career-low 73 ORtg Per 36.
Look, Norm is a shoe-in for all of the minutes he’s receiving and he’s earned them. But if end-of-bench guys like Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Matt Thomas can ever put together a couple of games in a row of good play, Norm could start to see some of those minutes dwindle.
Non-Raptors Announcers = Snoozefest
Realistically, this section is more indicative of a HOT Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong combo rather than a NOT when it comes to whatever combination of announcers other teams trot out, but geez, we’re really spoiled with our local colour commentators here in Toronto.
After watching highlights from the local Celtics and Bulls commentators, the energy and charisma of a Matt Devlin as well as the ragged consistency of polar opposite incredulity of a Jack Armstrong are noticeably absent.
Give them their roses while we have them, Toronto!