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Toronto Temperature: Slimm Duck throws a block party as the bench gets cooking

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With a slew of Raptors on the shelf, Toronto’s depth finds its footing for the week.

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers
Chris Boucher flexin’ on ‘em.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

What a week for the Raptors.

From career-highs to a smattering of injuries, the four games that the Raptors played saw story-lines that couldn’t be more disparate. The start of the slate saw extremely hot play and featured an entirely healthy roster (save for Nick Nurse favourite, Patrick McCaw) as the Raptors easily dispensed of the Kings and Pelicans. The back-half of the games were an entirely different story and featured an extremely depleted, and by the end of it, extremely tired but pretty damn good team still standing.

Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby and the aforementioned Patrick McCaw are all without return dates, but thankfully for the purposes of this column, there will still some high and highs and low lows. For the record, I can’t wait to write this column and be like, “hey, no one is not hot!”.

Who’s Hot

Chris Boucher, Playing Big

Last week I had Chris Boucher pegged in the Who’s Not section of this column as a guy who couldn’t hold his weight and I couldn’t be happier to see this role reversal. Not only did Boucher hold his own against some bigger opponents, but he was a huge factor in securing some W’s.

Against the Pelicans, Boucher shot poorly but contributed to the rebounding effort that allowed the Raptors hang around with an active rebounding team, but it was once he touched toe in L.A. that Boucher began to shine.

Boucher was everywhere and doing everything. He was his usual confident self when hoisting from beyond the arc, keeping the defense honest in spite of his 1-4 mark from beyond the arc. More importantly, he was in the right spot at the right time finishing opportunistic dunks and transition plays.

Somewhat surprisingly, it was on the defensive end where he made his money. Slim Duck was a menace in the paint in both L.A. games; parlaying his high energy, wiry play into five blocks and three steals over the back to back Hollywood set of the road swing. The crown jewel in those two performances? See below.

Montrezl doesn’t want it with Chris and the league has been put on alert.

Masai Ujiri, Genius

If there isn’t a statue of Masai Ujiri in Maple Leaf Square by the time it’s all said and done then we need to burn it all down and start anew. Ujiri has been legendary in his relatively short time with MLSE as he has not only brought the Larry O’B home to Canada but he brought it home with guys like this.

Terence Davis looks like he’s going to shake out into a more than useful player in the NBA and Boucher lead us off at the top of the Who’s Hot section and himself into possibly seeing more meaningful minutes when the Raptors return to health. On top of that, Masai has shown complete trust in Nick Nurse as Nurse has played hardball with Masai’s new signings.

A prime example is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who came to camp seemingly thinking that he was a lock to get minutes simply by showing up after signing a contract. Nurse challenged every new guy who came through the door and boldly chewed them all out to the media when they weren’t showing the fight the organization expected. Moves like that could lead to bad blood within an organization, but Masai’s faith in Nurse was rewarded as RHJ was given his opportunity and looked like he tattooed Nurse’s words on his eyelids en route to locking up Kawhi Leonard.

There is still much of the season to play out and I expected we’ll see Masai in this column again as he surely has another move in his back pocket for this year’s squad, right?

Pascal Siakam, Eastern Conference Player of the Week

No other player represents the polarity of this column’s four-game stretch than Pascal Siakam. If the column ended after the first two games, he would be leading it off with his shiny Player of the Week award.

If it started during the L.A. stretch, I’m not sure he would have made it at all.

Siakam was electric and efficient in his first two games against Sacramento and New Orleans, averaging 33.5/11.5/4.5 on 61% shooting while tying his career high against the Pelicans with 44 points. Against the Lakers and Clippers? Pascal averaged 20/10.5/5 but his efficiency dropped down to 36% from the field and 57% from the free throw line. The caveat to all of this numbers is that he averaged 40.5 minutes per game over the four game stretch, playing all but 10 minutes in the final two games of the back to back; hence his inclusion here.

The other reason for his inclusion, there’s a minimum of five highlight plays he made that were incredible. Let’s leave this spicy little beauty right here, shall we?

Who’s Not

Norman Powell, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What to do with Norm Powell? The guy lays it on the line every night, fighting, scrapping, mixing it up, other brawling euphemisms. Sometimes, there are great results — like his effort against the Pelicans where he put up 18 points in 29 minutes off the bench to finish with a team high +28. Other times you get the Clippers experience where he was a team-worst -18 on 41% shooting and somehow only 2 turnovers (it felt like so many more).

Powell is in his fifth year in the league now and playing the most minutes he’s been given per game. He’s also shooting a career low from three point range and averaging his highest points per game. Look at this, a career high in free throw attempts but also his high in turnovers?! Moreover his offensive rating is it’s worst, yet his defensive rating is his best. Norm Powell is a conundrum.

For the Raptors to survive this injury-riddled stretch of the schedule, they are going to need Powell to find water with his game and level out to a consistent and positive contributor.

Fred VanVleet, Steady Decline

It’s difficult to put Fred VanVleet in this section of the column this week. Steady Freddy was a collective +1 over the four games since the last column and while you can look at that and be happy with not losing the minutes you played with Fred overall, the amount of injuries the Raptors are dealing with means that they need more than essentially breaking even from VanVleet.

VanVleet started the week trending up with solid showings against the Kings and Pelicans but ended up trending down in lieu of putting up some counting stats. Yes, Fred averaged 18.5 points and 11 assists per game, but as the minutes racked up, his efficiency plummeted. This is all seeming very familiar. Fred shot a very much not hot 37% in the L.A. swing and it was clear as day that the minutes and lack of rest were getting the best of his game.

Maybe that’s all it is. Maybe he’s just gassed and needs to ready himself with some rest. Hopefully for the Raptors it’s not something else. Something like being the lead point guard and having to fill Kyle Lowry’s enormously efficient shoes.

Marc Gasol, Getting Better

I’m going to make a bold prediction here: this is the last week that Gasol will be in this section of the column.

Big Spain has looked a little bit better as the season has progressed as his defensive rotations have sharpened up and his passing is rounding into form.

The final piece that will get him out of the Who’s Not doghouse? SHOOTING THE BALL WHEN YOU’RE OPEN!

If Gasol can cleanse himself of his hesitancy, the game opens up so much more not only for him, but this entire Raptors team. Very excited to see what comes next.