After falling just short against the Bucks on Saturday night, the Raptors look to end the lowly Kings’ winning streak at two games tonight. Last season, the Kings put together a successful campaign, finishing just shy of the playoffs with the 9th seed in the Western Conference. Despite achieving the team’s best record since 2006, the Kings’ general manager Vlade Divac opted to fire their head coach Dave Joerger and hire Luke Walton to replace him.
As it turns out, that wasn’t a good idea — as if anyone thought it might be, save for Divac — and the team regressed to start this season, losing an abysmal five straight. Last year, De’Aaron Fox, one of the quickest guards in the NBA, contributed to a top five pace. Now the Kings inexplicably and unjustifiably sit at just 26th in that category. To add to Sacramento’s woes, a thumb fracture derailed Marvin Bagley’s sophomore campaign before it even began, sidelining him for four to six weeks.
If it wasn’t made abundantly clear, the Kings’ offense is struggling. Sacramento hosts the league’s ninth worst effective field goal percentage (49.7%), dipping their offensive rating to just 26th in the NBA (101.9). The Raptors, on the other hand, are excelling on the defensive end of the floor, which bodes well for yet another a defensive clinic against the Kings.
However, as one of the Raptors’ defensive anchors, Pascal Siakam must limit his fouls to stay in the game. His tendency to foul unnecessarily has plagued the Raptors on both ends of the floor, prompting these unabashed quotes from Nick Nurse:
Full Nurse quotes on Siakam foul trouble pic.twitter.com/TUebw6BzGV— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 5, 2019
In response, Siakam admitted that he’s still learning how to control his body on defense and assured fans he will focus on adjusting that aspect of his game as the year progresses.
This season, the Raptors have dominated the league’s lesser foes and I would expect that trend to continue. Here are the details for tonight’s matchup:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet ONE, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Sacramento – De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes, Nemanja Bjelica
Toronto – Patrick McCaw (knee – out)
Sacramento – Harry Giles III (knee – questionable), Marvin Bagley III (thumb – out)
Win the Turnover Battle
At this point in the season, the Raptors’ Achilles heel has been turnovers. Across Toronto’s first six games, the team has averaged 18.3 turnovers, ranking 26th overall in this category. The season is young, and the Raptors are still figuring out their offense. In the absence of Kawhi Leonard isolations, we’ve seen Nick Nurse lean into a more ball movement-oriented offense; naturally, as the ball swings, more turnovers are expected.
However, Pascal Siakam must be more decisive as the team’s primary scoring option. Not to insinuate that he’s the only culprit, but far too often Pascal will leave his feet and find himself frantically whipping the ball directly into the opponent’s hands. Amongst all starting forwards, Siakam’s assist to turnover ratio (1.05) ranks just 62nd in the league.
As Raptors fans have seen, however, rapid growth is no stranger to the league’s reigning Most Improved Player. In just his fourth season, Siakam was thrust into this new role with little time to get used to the lay of the land. As the season progresses, I anticipate his feel for the game will improve dramatically, ultimately resulting in fewer turnovers.
Guard the Perimeter
The Kings are shooting just 33.3 percent from long range, but that isn’t stopping the team from collectively hoisting the sixth most threes in the NBA. Buddy Hield, one of the league’s premier three-point gunners, has seen a slight dip in efficiency from beyond the arc — 37.5 percent this season, compared to 42.7 percent last season — but he’s shooting a career-high 9.1 three point attempts per game. Similar to Klay Thompson, Hield can be deadly if left with even an inch of space from the outside.
Unfortunately, the Raptors have been just a middling team in limiting opponent three-point percentage this season (35.6%). Alongside Buddy Hield, both Bogdan Bogdanovic and Harrison Barnes are effective three-point shooters despite a dip in three-point accuracy this season compared to last year. Toronto will need Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and OG Anunoby to focus on closing out effectively against the Kings tonight.
Crash the Defensive Boards
One would expect Bagley’s absence from the active roster to impair the Kings’ rebounding ability, and while that has proven true on the defensive end, Sacramento has surprisingly dominated the offensive boards. The team ranks 10th in the league in offensive rebounds per game (10.9), spelling trouble for the Raptors who give up the 4th most rebounds per game out of all teams (49.0).
Don’t blame OG though. Right now Anunoby is contributing a career high in rebounds per game (6.7), though I imagine his usual focus on the glass may be shifted towards guarding Sacramento around the perimeter. So, the Raptors are going to need big rebounding nights from Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, and Siakam to compensate. As is usually the case, if Toronto can win on the boards, their chances of beating the Kings rises considerably.