Getting Toronto’s legendary point guard Kyle Lowry back on the floor is a boon in any context — there’s no denying that. However, the return of the general seems to have thrown a hitch in the groove the Raptors’ younger players had established in his 11-game absence.
Riding a seven-game win streak upon his return against the Heat last Tuesday, a host of players looked out of sorts with Lowry at the helm instead of Fred VanVleet — most notably so, Pascal Siakam. Toronto’s play style is still effective (made evident by the torrid fourth quarter push on Sunday evening) and it appears to be a matter more of familiarity than anything. The group minus Lowry and Serge Ibaka played more games than the two appeared in and this three game losing streak seems more like something the team needed to become a well-oiled machine once again.
Whatever the reason may be, Chicago is a great team to hit the reset button against. The Bulls have lost two straight of their own and sit at 8-16, including last night’s overtime loss against the Heat (who are surging up the standings). The Raptors are undefeated against teams with a losing record this season, racking up 12 of their 15 wins against sub-.500 clubs.
Here’s a look at tonight’s matchup:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 8:00 p.m. EST
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Chicago — Kris Dunn, Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr.
Toronto — Fred VanVleet (questionable — knee), Stanley Johnson (out — groin), Matt Thomas (out — finger), Patrick McCaw (out — knee)
Chicago — Otto Porter Jr. (out — foot), Chandler Hutchison (questionable — shoulder)
Siakam, for all of his highlights this year, appears to have only two gears on offense: super efficient basket-making, or really inefficient basket-making. There is no in-between — and that’s not hyperbole: despite shooting 47 percent on the year, Siakam has only logged four games with a shooting percentage in the forties — the remaining 18 games land either above 50 percent, or below 40 percent. It’s an odd stat that includes Sunday’s 39 percent performance against the 76ers.
Either way, Siakam has shot below that forty-percent mark twice in Lowry’s three games since his return, while notching 41 percent in the third. It’s not just a regular shooting slump — Siakam has approached his role on offense in a completely different way, avoiding the close looks he hunts down early in game to establish a rhythm and instead opting to feel a defender out by over-dribbling the ball on the wing. Against Houston and Miami, Siakam iso’d the ball at a rate we haven’t seen this season, and he paid for it.
Wendell Carter Jr. is a Very Good Player
The traditional centre position was once the easiest spot in basketball — you were tall, so stand under the basket. And then, following a golden age of big dudes in the 90s, the position quite literally nearly died because every tall guy thought they could play. But, in recent years, because the position was by all rites dead, players underwent additional scrutiny when being assessed of their talent.
That scrutiny produces players like Carter Jr. who, by all accounts, is a very talented and overlooked second-year player. Not only is he producing when he’s on the floor, he’s effective beyond appreciable statistics — consistently offering positive plus/minus numbers despite the game’s outcome (which, for an 8-16 team, is damn impressive). He’s a traditional centre in every measure — he doesn’t dribble, he stays in the paint and he gobbles up rebounds. Players such as Carter Jr. are tough to find these days and the ones that do stand out (such as Myles Turner) rarely stick around beyond a short stint for whatever reason. Wendell seems to be an odd man out of the bunch.
Status on Fred
VanVleet suffered what the team called a knee contusion in Sunday’s game against the 76ers, which forced him into the locker room after twelve minutes on the floor. He eventually returned to the bench in warm up gear, so it appears he was feeling good enough to try and get back into the game at some point, however as it stands right now he’s questionable for tonight’s contest until we get an official update.
Fred’s been a staple in the lineup this year, and any missed time could be a huge burden for the Raptors’ offense. He’s averaging 19 points and seven assists as the team’s combo-guard (one who actually plays defense too) in a two-guard strategy that has paid off for Nick Nurse so far. If Fred should miss any time, it would give Nurse two decent size samples of games featuring just one of the two starting guards thus far in the early season — a useful snapshot to take into the postseason with you, for preparation’s sake if nothing else.