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Toronto Temperature: How good exactly are these new-look Raptors?

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The Raptors lost by 15 to the Magic only to demolish the Celtics by 23. The NBA is predictable sometimes. This week needs a temperature check.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Watching the Raptors is pretty startling nowadays. Everything is so fresh and new. Jeremy Lin is a Raptor. Marc Gasol is a Raptor. Jodie Meeks is 201st on the Raptors all-time scoring list (stat idea courtesy of Blake Murphy). I can hardly keep up.

And with the complexity of timeline we find ourselves on it feels like a perfect time to look at the good and bad from the Raptors’ past week. It’s time for Toronto Temperature. Let’s get to it.

Who’s Hot

KLOE

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Kyle Lowry’s string of stellar performances. Since the all-star break he is averaging 14.3 points, 8.7 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. It isn’t just the box score numbers either. Watching the games on TV it looks like he is settling in as the emotional leader of the team. Following the Raptors win over the Spurs on Sunday even Kawhi Leonard chimed in, saying that Lowry reassured the team they were going win in the final moments of the game. “(Kyle) Lowry told us we were going to win this game. We believed that.”

Celtics’ Game

The Raptors had so many encouraging moments in their win against the Celtics. Nearly every player up and down the roster contributed. Marc Gasol had a standout passing game. Kyle Lowry went KLOE. Patrick McCaw continued to display his unique sense of basketball (actively seeking out havoc). But it was Pascal Siakam who was the standout performer, scoring 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting, putting forth a downright dominant performance no better capsulized by his coast-to-coast line drive dunk in the third quarter.

Raptors’ Schedule

The Raptors schedule really eases up from here on out. They play the Knicks, Pistons, and Hornets two times apiece and have the easiest remaining strength of schedule according to Tankathon. It’s going to be important for them to beat up on bad teams if they want to catch Milwaukee for the first seed (they are currently three games behind in the loss column and do not hold the tiebreaker).

Who’s Not

Raptors’ Bench Unit

Fact: The Raptors have one player whose best position is power forward (Pascal Siakam). Another fact: The Raptors have four players whose best position is shooting guard (Danny Green, Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw, Jodie Meeks). This makes it hard to cobble together an effective bench unit. The lack of size on the bench unit probably hurts OG Anunoby the most. He is overmatched as a post defender playing the four and fares much better skirting around the perimeter where his size plays especially well. I wonder if Malcolm Miller, who stands at 6’7 and 210 pounds, works his way into the equation.

Video Tributes

DeMar DeRozan video tribute? Absolutely. Jakob Poeltl video tribute? I’m in. A video tribute celebrating the arena’s 20th birthday? I might be out. As a fan there needs to be some diversity in the timeouts. I think people would appreciate a t-shirt blaster or dance pack in that third slot. You know, mix it up. Because a third video tribute? That feels like a lot right now. I really think the timeout committee (presumably?) should consider variety as a core value moving forward. They should ask themselves, is this spicing up the night? Maybe you get Pascal Siakam on board. Maybe he turns into a decision maker. “Hey Pascal, is this spicy?” Maybe you run that by him.

Marc Gasol’s Athleticism

The Marc Gasol trade was palatable for a few reasons. One, the salaries coming and going were similar (keeping the cap sheets relatively clean) and two, Delon Wright likely didn’t figure into the Raptors’ plans as a restricted free agent this summer anyways.

But the big question, and risk for Masai Ujiri was always going to be this: How much more productive is Gasol than Jonas Valanciunas? In the playoffs, do you want 24 minutes of Gasol or 24 minutes of Valanciunas? If I were to bet, I think Gasol’s ability to make his teammates better will end up being more valuable than Valanciunas’ superior finishing ability but alas, Gasol has snuck into the ‘not’ category this week.

Facing the Magic this past week it was hard not to notice Gasol’s athleticism, or lack thereof, on the court. He was flubbing elbow jump shots and had trouble finishing through contact. It was concerning. Was he tired? Did he need to adjust to Toronto’s pace? Did his conditioning worsen over the all-star break? I think within the next couple of weeks we will have a better sense of Gasol’s natural ability and fit but in the meantime, Gasol’s ability to finish plays is concerning.