It’s almost here! Everyone’s favourite/least favourite time of the year: the holidays! I find myself siding firmly in the latter camp when it comes to seasonal favouritism, but I tell ya what, if Jack Armstrong keeps this kind of shit up, I might could be a convert.
The Raptors doled out their fair share of early seasonal cheer by securing a 2-1 week, albeit with their two wins coming against lesser than opponents. But! You’ve got to play the team that’s in front of you. If only every team in front of the Raptors were the terrible Cleveland Cavaliers (that felt really good to write) or the Brooklyn “I’ll Give You A Million Dollars If You Can Name our Starting Five” Nets.
Absolutely love to see the Cavaliers get humiliated.— Daniel Reynolds (@aka_Reynolds) December 17, 2019
On with the show!
Raptors Digital Team, Footsteps
Countless words by countless writers have been churned out about Kawhi’s return and it was, like, a whole week ago (if you haven’t read The Ringer’s oral history of The Shot, do that). But, what cannot not be mentioned in this article, is the effort of the Raptors digital team with their spectacular Kawhi Leonard video tribute.
The editing. The graphic design. The footsteps! So much careful and creative thought went into the production of this tribute video and the team deserves all of their roses. Simply put, it was a tour de force and you can’t convince me that any other of the 29 teams in the league has a better digital team on deck.
Norman Powell, Stormin’
I really don’t know what to do with myself. Marc Gasol just put up a 17 point, 15 rebound gem and Norman Powell is averaging *checks notes* 24 points on 68% shooting?!? Well, that’s only over three games, so... wait, he’s been doing what over the last nine games?
Last 9 games— a. :( (@Swarlayzers) December 17, 2019
This was supposed to be a safe space where I could lament about Norm’s decision making, erratic shot selection and finishing ability. What has this world become? Dylan Litman from RaptorsHQ pointed out exactly what kind of world it’s become. The kind of world where Stormin’ Norman comfortably leads the league in points per possession in transition. And heck, have a look at how many other Raptors are on this list!
Raptors faithful have been begging for consistency and efficiency from Norm for basically forever — have we finally arrived?
Remains To Be Seen
Starting Lineups, Constant Adjustments
And of course, Norm’s career-best play comes with a caveat. With Fred VanVleet nearing a return (and also playing the best basketball of his career before his injury) who the hell leaves the starting lineup? Nick Nurse opened up about that.
Yesterday Nick Nurse indicated that Norm Powell's recent play might make him reconsider his starting lineup once Fred VanVleet returns. Today he elaborated on what would go into that decision. pic.twitter.com/Lj9oYSJnqC— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 17, 2019
Let’s run through the list here:
Kyle Lowry is playing his usual excellent basketball and is still the most important Raptor on the court. Fred VanVleet, Norm, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam are all playing the best basketball of their careers. Someone has to play the centre spot, so what’s a coach to do?
The answer seems painfully obvious: take a similar route to last year and have a staggered starting lineup based on opponents and matchups. The only question around that is a matter of strategic efficacy when it comes to Norman Powell, who has thrived as a main option with the starting five. Can Norm be as consistent and productive with a bench unit? Can Nurse stagger his starters enough to buoy Powell when he isn’t? Nurse definitely has his hands full once again thanks to the injury bug but you can’t say he hasn’t kept it entertaining (RIP to RHJ’s minutes).
Rumours, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
It’s almost here! Everyone’s actual favourite time of the year: the opening of the trade window in the NBA. Now NBA fans get the privilege of being inundated with ridiculous trade takes brought to you by anyone and everyone! According to sources, we’re in for a wild ride, so let’s take a look at some of the loudest rumblings when it comes to the Raps.
Our very own Josh Kern wrote about Tristan Thompson coming over to the Raptors earlier this month and let me chip in my two cents: I hate it! Yes, the Raptors have more often than not been a train-wreck on the glass, but does that mean you should trade for a guy who basically only contributes in that one area? Didn’t the Raptors already try that with Bismack Biyombo? While Tristan is Canadian and that seems to be a passable enough reason for league insiders to entertain this kind of mess, Thompson to the Raptors feels like all smoke and no show.
Another unhappy Cavalier is Kevin Love who is a very, very good offensive big man with some very, very discernible holes in his defensive game. Would a package of Norm Powell (playing so well!), Serge Ibaka (he’s a big guy!), Pat McCaw (count those rings!) and some picks be enough to land Love? Does he propel the Raptors any further up the standings and more importantly deeper into the playoff picture? Let me tell ya folks, it would remain to be seen.
Finally, the biggest name linked to trade talks with the Raps is Jrue Holiday who is arguably the best defending 1-2 guard in the NBA. Adding Holiday would be a costly endeavour and sort of feels like going to the store for bread when you already have a loaf of bread on your counter and two more loaves in your freezer. The Raps would likely have to ship out VanVleet and a whole heap more in a deal to obtain Jrue Holiday and end up with the same unanswered questions a Love deal would pose — is he enough to get the Raptors back to the Finals?
Teams Below .500, aka Raptor Prey
Looking for some empirical evidence that the Raptors have been feasting on the hearts of the not-so-great teams in this year’s NBA?
Update to a table I posted a week or two ago: pic.twitter.com/5esotN9trV— Eustacchio Raulli (@EVR1022) December 18, 2019
Outside of Brooklyn, every team in Group C-F is below .500. How did the Raptors do against the teams in that group? Oooooooooh baby! How does 15-0 sound to you? It sounds pretty damn great to me because you know what, I grew up watching the Raptors lose to trash opponents for the better part of my entire life so I will take my meal with seconds, thank you very much.
Conversely, one could argue (if one must) that the Raptors have been not hot against teams above .500 as they sport a 3-8 record against said competition. I’m the arguing type so I would also point out that they’ve played the most games against the toughest competition that Group A and B has to offer so perhaps strength of schedule comes into play? I’m ready to fight anybody.
Tristan Thompson, Salty