It was an uncertain week for the Raptors. The defending champs were down two key players — Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry — for all three of the games they played, and were missing OG Anunoby for one (and 46 minutes of another). As such, they were testing out bench guys, and oh yeah, they were on the road the whole week too!
Their 1-2 record reflects those missing pieces and the road weariness, but doesn’t accurately reflect the fight they put up in the two losses. Unfortunately, in the world of the power rankings, injuries aren’t much of a consideration, and moral victories? Nah, bro.
And so opinions on the Raptors this week are a bit down, as compared to last week.
Let’s start the roundup once again with ESPN, and Andre’ Snellings:
9. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 7)
The Raptors just went 3-2 on a rough, five-game road swing that included wins over the Lakers and Trail Blazers but losses to the Clippers and Mavericks. They have continued to play well despite the injury absence of Kyle Lowry (thumb), in large part thanks to the excellent play of Fred VanVleet, who has averaged 22.8 points, 8.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game during the four games since Lowry went down.
Kudos to Snellings for pointing out Fred VanVleet’s excellence. A lot of the talk around the Raptors the past week has been on who isn’t playing, or how the bench has stepped up, or how Pascal Siakam is handling being the number one guy. Meanwhile VanVleet is being his steady self, and proving that he is fully capable of running a team as its starting point guard.
Speaking of excellence, The Athletic’s Zach Harper has similar praise for the Raptors’ scouting and development program:
5. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 5)
The Toronto Raptors might have the best development program this side of the Miami Heat. Obviously, the biggest feather in Masai Ujiri’s and his staff’s cap comes in the form of Pascal Siakam. While they didn’t create something out of essentially nothing due to Siakam being a first-round pick, nobody had him pegged as being this type of player. He has even admittedly surprised himself. But look at the other components of this roster at the moment. The Raptors have some big injuries to Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry at the moment. It opens an opportunity for guys like Chris Boucher and Terence Davis to step up to carve out minutes for themselves.
Boucher is pretty remarkable. He was undrafted in 2017, spent a year in the Golden State Warrior’s G-League program, and then dominated for the Raptors 905 last season. He had a bit of time with the main Raptors squad and got himself a ring. This season, he’s earned a full-time roster spot with the big Raptors, and the Ibaka injury is giving him extra opportunities. In the two recent games in Los Angeles, Boucher scored 28 points, knocked down some open 3-pointers, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked five shots. This was one of the blocks when Montrezl Harrell tried to put him in the floor.
Boucher might weigh 200 pounds right now. He used two hands and punched the dunk attempt by Harrell back to the earth. The more chances he gets, the more he’s going to look like another diamond in the rough for this Raptors development.
Add Zach to the Boucher Hive! I’m a new member myself, and it has indeed been fun to see him succeed in this opportunity with Ibaka on the sidelines. Will he ever be as dominant at the NBA level as he was in the G League last year? Not likely, but if this stretch is any indication, he should have a long career as a third big.
9. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 6)
Pascal Siakam had another monster game on Wednesday, putting up 36 in Portland, with nine of the 36 coming in the Raptors’ game-deciding, 14-0, fourth-quarter run. But that game was sandwiched by two (in L.A. and Dallas) in which Siakam looked somewhat mortal, and without Kyle Lowry, the Raptors might not have enough to overcome an off night from their star. They did go 3-2 on their five-game trip and they’ll be home for the holidays. They play 15 of their 22 games between now and Jan. 1 at Scotiabank Arena, where they’re 4-0 so far. Siakam has a legit shot at a second straight Kia Most Improved Player award and he’s not the only Raptor who has taken a step forward. OG Anunoby has seen the league’s second biggest jump in effective field goal percentage (from 53.6% to 66.9%) among 210 players with at least 250 field goal attempts last season and at least 50 this season.
You can always count on John for some cool numbers, and I really dig that OG Anunoby number. Anunoby has been a steadying presence for the Raptors so far this year; he locks down whoever he’s guarding, he reliably hits the open shot when the ball swings to him, and every once in a while, he does something spectacular.
Anunoby might not be experiencing as eye-opening a leap as Pascal Siakam had last year, but as those numbers show, there’s been a definite improvement — and it’s made a difference in the win column.
Finally, let’s see what Colin Ward-Henninger has to say about the Raptors at CBS Sports:
10. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: 2)
The Raptors’ offense sputtered as they dropped two of three games to finish out their five-game road trip. The team looked understandably exhausted this week, and you have to wonder if the extreme minutes played by offensive focal points Pascal Siakam (37.1 per game this season) and Fred VanVleet (38.5) have already started to take a toll.
Hmm, Colin had the Raptors at #10 two weeks ago, then they beat Lebron James to climb to #2 last week, and now... they’re back to #10! But yes, I too wonder about the minutes Siakam and VanVleet are playing. Putting so many miles on these two at the start of the season — that included this five-game road trip and the trip to Japan and back last month — could have long-term implications. When Lowry comes back, hopefully the team’s new-found bench depth can give VanVleet a bit of a break, and Lowry’s presence alone should divert some attention away from Pascal.
Now it’s time to hear from you in the poll:
Is the drop-off seen in 3⁄4 of the rankings justified?
This poll is closed
Yep. 1-2? You are what your record says you are.
Nope. You can’t dock them that much when they’re missing key players.
Absolutely. Kawhi scored 12 points and the Raps still lost. They’re trash.
No way! The team fought like hell and proved they’re better than 1-2.