Kawhi Leonard is gone, and in his wake the Raptors are searching. The roster was an egalitarian one behind Leonard last year, with Kyle Lowry orchestrating, Pascal Siakam scoring with efficiency, and a deep cast of role players in support. This season, however, Toronto is at a crossroads. Lowry is the all-time Raptor, but he’s 33 going on 34. Siakam is a rising star, but the question of whether he can be the franchise’s centerpiece is still an open one. The cast of role players mostly remains, but whether any of them can take the next step and shed the role player label remains to be seen.
Whose Team is it Anyways will be a column that tracks the best Raptor, tallying up the the results week by week, so that by the end of the year we can know whether this season was part of the Lowry era, the Siakam era, or the start of another era in Raptors’ history altogether.
What the Numbers Say:
Box score stats:
Points per game leader: Kyle Lowry (28 PPG)
Assists per game leader: Fred VanVleet (9 APG)
Rebounds per game leader: Marc Gasol (8 RPG)
Net rating/plus-minus & their derivatives:
On-court net rating leader: Pascal Siakam (+20.7 points per 100 possessions)
On/off differential leader: Pascal Siakam (+20.7 on, -34.8 off, +55.5 differential)
Player Impact Plus-Minus leader : Fred VanVleet (+1.59 PIPM)
Box Plus-Minus leader: Kyle Lowry (+5.0 BPM)
Note: Catch-all statistics (BPM & PIPM) are cumulative, taking the full season into account, all other stats only reference games played this past week.
What Ya Boy Says:
This was a short week, with only two games played, and because of some mitigating factors, there isn’t much debate as to who the best Raptor was. In half of the games he played this week Pascal Siakam drew Giannis Antetokounmpo as his individual matchup. The future Raptor isn’t just arguably the best player in the league, he’s arguably the player best equipped to shut down Siakam.
What makes Siakam such a weapon is his offensive versatility, very few players can both slide with him on the perimeter and bang with him in the post. Normally he identifies the weakness of whichever player is guarding him and exploits it repeatedly. He eviscerated Christian Wood and Thon Maker again and again off the dribble in the Raptors’ recent matchup against the Pistons, and posted Luke Kennard into oblivion on a switch.
Against Giannis there’s no weakness to exploit. Antetokounmpo is quicker and more explosive than Siakam, able to contain his penetration with ease on most plays, while being a threat to recover and block even if he allows a blow-by. And no amount of spinning trickery from Siakam can account for the strength advantage that Giannis has in the post, as Antetokounmpo can move Siakam out to the perimeter before he even catches an entry pass. It’s as unwinnable a matchup as there is for the Raptors’ blossoming star.
Meanwhile, the toughest matchups Kyle Lowry drew this week were human mortality and the inevitable passage of time.
Lowry was pissed off towards the end of the Raptors’ game against the Bucks. He had just spent a quarter getting faceguarded and overplayed, unable to impact the game like he wanted to offensively. He was getting faceguarded and overplayed because he’d spent the two quarters prior trying to drag the Raptors’ back from a nearly insurmountable disadvantage. He had evoked his prime years as a scorer by piling on 17 points in the third quarter to make a close game out of what had once been a 26 point deficit.
Season-best performance from KLow.— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 3, 2019
36 Pts | 6 Ast | 5 3pm | 4 Reb pic.twitter.com/AVGAqmKhgC
Lowry might as well have started this year with a metaphorical 26 point deficit. He’s a six foot tall guard entering his age 33 season. Here’s Lowry’s childhood hero Allen Iverson, another legendary six footer, running face first into a wall in his age 33 year.
Isiah Thomas avoided that wall by retiring at 32. Lowry’s contemporaries Mike Conley and Chris Paul are presently being clotheslined by it.
There’s this psychotically competitive, contrarian, Napoleon-complex motivated impulse that exists in all 6-foot tall NBA stars. Their physical limitations means failure will always loom closer in their rearview than it does for others throughout the league. They’re fuelled by doubt, not aspiration. Lowry’s performance against the the Bucks is a near perfect encapsulation of that impulse.
Lowry saw his team inevitably falling apart around him: Marc Gasol losing his own battle to Father Time, Fred VanVleet’s size costing him around the basket, Siakam being predictably overwhelmed by Antetokounmpo. Lowry felt the wall at his back, and he said screw that. For the next two quarters, the post-prime midget outplayed the 6’11” ungodly freak of nature. Lowry’s contrarian nature was made manifest in the game as it unfolded, he was working to make the most illogical possible outcome a reality.
Lowry lost in the end, which is perhaps fitting. At this point he’s no longer just fighting against players who are bigger, faster and stronger than him. His most pressing foe now is the passage of time, and that foe is undefeated. The tick of the clock will eventually take this franchise from him. Flags don’t fly forever; one day the number seven will hang in the rafters at the Scotiabank Arena, and one day it will come down, it’s meaning forgotten.
In the dying seconds of the game against the Bucks, with the Raptors down double digits, Lowry notched a deflection and made a layup. Meaningless plays that under no circumstances could have impacted the outcome of the game.
Lowry knows he’s going to lose in the end, because time is undefeated. But knowing he was going to lose didn’t stop Lowry from notching a few extra points Bucks, and it won’t stop him from doing the same against Father Time. This week was one of those points.
Official Whose Team Is It Anyways Standings
1. Kyle Lowry (1.5 points)
2. Pascal Siakam (0.5 points)
T3. Everyone else (0 points)
T3. Father Time (0 points)
Stats courtesy of stats.NBA.com, Basketball Reference (BPM) and Jacob Goldstein (PIPM)