Bit of a mixed-bag week for your Toronto Raptors. Yes, Toronto finished with a 3-1 record. Yes, the Raptors drubbed the Jazz in historic fashion thanks to a 40-point halftime lead. No, it wasn’t perfect, as there were a handful of inconsistencies and disruptions that took a bit of the shine off of that positive win-loss showing.
Am I burying the lede? All right fine, I’m burying the lede. Kyle Lowry, the greatest Raptor of all time, returned after a lengthy absence and let me just go on the record in saying this is the hottest thing to happen this week.
Toronto welcomes Kyle Lowry back to the starting lineup as the @Raptors look to remain unbeaten at home!— NBA (@NBA) December 4, 2019
: #HEATTwitter x #WeTheNorth
Watch Live: https://t.co/lZZApswzuX pic.twitter.com/XHLukeD6gu
That right there was unfortunately the highlight of Lowry’s return but we’ll touch more on that, Snoozy P and some food for thought on where the Raptors go from here.
The Raptors Roster, Healthy at Last
The takeaway from the Raptors finally being able to field a healthy team for the first time since they played the Pelicans on November 8th (sans Patrick McCaw, but, you know) should be a triumphant one. Instead, prepare to roll your eyeballs through your skull, down your nasal cavity, into your throat and gulp them into the depths of your insides, because here’s an example of the headlines and takes you’re going to see instead.
For the one millionth time, “emphatically yes” is the answer to the question of whether or not the Raptors are better with Kyle Lowry. You know who else the Raptors are better with? Serge Ibaka. These two guys missed extensive amounts of time and the shorthanded team was rolling (9-2 without Lowry). Enjoy the right and try not to let the social media hellscape get the better of you — a full strength Raptors squad is the best version of this team, so let’s just give it a beat, yeah?
Norman Powell, Big Time Buckets
There have been so many moments of pure joy throughout the season as defending NBA Champions. The banner and ring ceremony. Pascal’s emergence. Terence Davis II being the rookie of the year in all of our hearts. If the current stretch of play from Norm Powell turns out to be what the Raptors get out of him for the remainder of the season, then Norm’s haircut and subsequent holding of Fred VanVleet’s miracle child will catapult right near the top.
Outside of the game against the Knicks, which we’re jut going to chalk up as “don’t put too much stock in anything when you play the Knicks”, Norm gave the Raptors everything they could have wanted. Absent was the multitude of careless turnovers. Amped-up was the on-ball defense which seemed to actually be better on the whole than his usual display of defensive tenacity (save for a Jimmy Butler blow-by late against the Heat).
Most importantly of all, some efficient, big-time offensive numbers and clutch shooting! Norm shot 53% from beyond the arc over the four-game stretch for the Raptors this week and perhaps none were better or bigger than this one right here.
BIG SHOT NORM pic.twitter.com/WCAltCyml0— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 4, 2019
Powell was an excellent three-point shooter last year and if he has designs on continuing to play big minutes for this squad with all of the new, effective bodies around him, he’s going to have keep pouring in nights like he had this week. Be our beautiful moment, Norman!
Hot and Not
Pascal Siakam, Spinning Conundrum
Chief among the aforementioned inconsistencies from the Raptors this week was superstar Pascal Siakam. Pascal finished with an efficient 31 point and 8 rebound night against the Knicks and absolutely destroyed the Utah Jazz en route to a 35/5/5 performance. Sandwiched within those games were stinkers against the Magic and the Heat, where Siakam was defended by prototypical Pascal defenders in Jonathan Isaac and Bam Adebayo.
In those two games, Siakam shot 25 percent from the field and was clearly bothered by the length of Isaac and the explosiveness of Adebayo. To Pascal’s credit, he still managed to be present on the glass in his two off games of the week averaging 12.5 rebounds but it was his lack of assertiveness against the Heat that spoke volumes.
Pascal Siakam: "I missed some shots but I don't think I was aggressive enough... I have to be in attack mode all the time. That's who I am and being one of the leaders of the team I have to (be aggressive) 100% of the time, every single game. I've gotta do a better job of that."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 4, 2019
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to measure Siakam’s talent, growth, ceiling and floor during this season because of his continued rapid ascent in all areas of his game. While it isn’t a great look to expect bad games from players, it’s important to remember that Pascal is still learning how to become a world-beating superstar. That quote above proves Siakam will not be waiting for the game to come to him and hopefully for Raptors fans, that means we see more of Jazz Pascal as opposed to Heat Pascal.
Kyle Lowry, It’s Only One Game
Yes, I just spent a couple hundred words saying that the Raptors are healthy now and everything is great, but in the context of the one game Kyle Lowry played, Kyle Lowry was not very good.
In his first action in a month, Lowry proceeded to shoot 2-18 from the field and 0-11 from 3 point range and post a -14 for the night. While he did shoot 8-8 from the FT line and post 11 assists, Lowry was a detriment to his team against the Heat.
Now, everyone breathe.
It was ONE GAME. One game after missing a month of action. One game where he played 41 minutes in his return. One game where he nearly single-handedly brought Toronto back from the brink of a loss as he drew a half-court charge and found Norm Powell for the big bucket above.
We’re going to get another game against the Rockets on Thursday and I expect a big one from Kyle.
The Raptors Coaching Staff, Much to Figure Out
While the coaching staff didn’t necessarily do anything egregiously wrong against the Miami Heat, a glaring issue is going to continue to come up now that the squad is at full health. That issue’s most glaring example? OG Anunoby only played 21 minutes against the Heat. While OG’s three point shooting has cooled a touch over the last week or so, it’s still an incredibly tough decision to have to sit arguably your best defender and definitely your best perimeter defender.
More troubling still? This is going to be a recurring “problem” on this team if the minutes load for Kyle, VanVleet and Pascal continue to trend in the direction they have. The answer? Perhaps it might be time to stop playing those three guys 40+ minutes each night. Terence Davis II has shown that he can comport himself more than admirably while running the point and playing off-ball. OG is a wrecking ball on defense and blossoming as an offensive player and Boucher and Hollis-Jefferson can provide big time moments dependent on the team’s need.
With a tough stretch of schedule upcoming, it’s going to be interesting to see if the coaching staff continues with the “odd-one out” approach, or finds a way to better balance the minutes load of it’s stars and keep the chemistry going that was found while the big names were out.