In what was surely one of the least anticipated games of the entire NBA season — no Kawhi Leonard! No Zackh LaVine! No Pascal Siakam! No Lauri Markkanen! — the Raptors romped to an easy win. As has been (and will be) the case in these final games, did we learn anything — and did the Raptors stay healthy?
The Mad Scientist Strikes
So Nick Nurse decided to start Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka together for the very first time as he continues to try new looks and see who can do what with whom.
I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about this; the Raptors haven’t had great chemistry all year, never mind since the trade deadline, so I lean towards just playing the players and groups you think will play the most in the postseason.
Then again, with both Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam on the shelf, Nurse didn’t have his playoff rotation available, so... I guess it doesn’t hurt to try some things!
So, did the Experiment Work?
Ibaka and Gasol played the opening six minutes or so of each quarter together, for a total of 12.7 on the night; in the first, the Raptors were a little shaky early, and were down one when Gasol came out, but the group that started the third outscored the Bulls by eight. The team’s net rating for the minutes overall was +31.8, which is very good; however, it’s the Bulls, playing a bunch of third-stringers, so it’s kinda hard to say.
I guess what matters more is: Will the Raptors need this look in the postseason? None of the Bucks, Sixers, or Celtics start two traditional bigs, so it seems unlikely. I suppose against the Pistons, with Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, it could be considered, but I’d think Griffin too quick for either Serge or Gasol to handle.
Getting them a few minutes together isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t anticipate seeing this look in the postseason.
The All-Powerful Mini-Backcourt
On paper it doesn’t seem like an ideal solution, pairing two sub-six-foot guards in the backcourt. And yet, when the Raptors start Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, they’re almost unbeatable!
#Raptors improve to 13-1 this season when Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet start together in the backcourt— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) March 31, 2019
What’s been the to this success? Part of is likely familiarity; Lowry and VanVleet logged a lot of minutes together last year, and with the rest of the starters in flux, it’s clear these two guys at least know how to play together. Part of it is likely just basketball IQ; these are two of the smartest guys on the team, who, despite having the ball more than anyone else, don’t make a lot of mistakes or bad decisions.
Overall, the Raptors ave played 45 games in which both Lowry and VanVleet were available, going 33-12; the team has a net rating of +12.7 in those minutes.
When everyone is available I don’t think there’s a case for starting both of them — Danny Green just makes more sense as a traditional two-guard, and the team’s Lowry+Green net rating is even better (+14.1), and besides, the bench unit needs VanVleet’s steady hand. But we’ll undoubtedly continue to see minutes every game with the small backcourt, and there’s a pretty good chance the Raptors will win those minutes.
Jeremy Lin on the Upswing
If these last three games — all blowout wins — have done anything, they’ve given Jeremy Lin some extended minutes. He’s averaging 23 per night over the stretch, and despite a horrendous 1-for-9 against the Bulls two games ago, has shot 8-for-16, and and 3-for-4 from downtown, in the last two.
I’ve been pretty hard on Lin here lately, but, he’s looked pretty terrible; if he can use these games to get his confidence back, I’ll be thrilled. And though the usual caveats apply regarding the competition, getting minutes and some rhythm, and seeing a few shots go down, can work wonders for a player, regardless of who he’s playing against.
Load Management, Coming for You
So Pascal Siakam was a late scratch last night (he wasn’t even officially on the injury report, they kept him active just in case) and I for one couldn’t have been happier.
Siakam seems like a bottomless pit of energy and enthusiasm; he never seems to get tired. But the season is a grind, and even if he seems fine, there’s undoubtedly some part of his body that could use a break. And of course, the fewer minutes he plays, the less likely the chance of injury.
I would be happy if the Raptors gave all their key guys one or two nights off one the next week and a half. Danny Green could use it. Kyle Lowry, definitely. Probably Gasol, although his minutes have been down. Ibaka and Fred VanVleet both missed time recently so they’re well-rested, but I’m sure a game off wouldn’t hurt!
All of which is to say: Look for the experiments to continue!
These last three games haven’t been the most pleasing or interesting to watch, no doubt about it. At least Monday’s game against Orlando still has some stakes — the Magic are fighting for that final playoff spot, currently sitting a half-game behind the Heat (but only 1.5 behind Detroit for sixth!). Let’s hope it’s a little more exciting than last night!