Not much has changed this week for the Raptors’ regulars. Kyle Lowry is still on a torrid pace, and the bench continues to be work in progress. It was the Raptors’ record that took a hit. They had an unspectacular 1-2 week with losses to Detroit and Houston, marking the first time the Raptors have lost two consecutive games since late January (yikes). Let’s take the temperature!
Kyle Lowry playing at a high level is just so fantastic. He had his best game of the season versus Detroit on Sunday, finishing with 35 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. The most encouraging stat though? Likely his 14 three point attempts. Lowry had a steady mix of catch-and-shoot looks and pull-ups all night. With 1:46 to go in regulation, Lowry, at the top of the arc with Reggie Jackson guarding him, took a couple of exploratory dribbles inside the arc only to spin around, and dart back for a three pointer. It was bold. It was tough. It was vintage Lowry.
The ceiling of this team is mighty impressive if Lowry summons 2016 KLOE to close out games. In the final two minutes of a game, he is liable to take a charge, sneak a bucket in unexpected semi-transition, and hit a dagger three. On a team already with Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Pascal Siakam, Lowry’s ceiling potential makes the Raptors a devastating team.
In a cool piece of news that was teased throughout the day, the NBA announced Monday evening that the Raptors will play two preseason games in Japan next season against the Rockets. It will mark the 13th and 14th NBA games played in Japan in what surely will be a raucous crowd with a 36,000 stadium capacity.
The best part about the story though came from the Twitter mentions. People wondered aloud (mostly jokingly) what the announcement could be. Was Kawhi Leonard going to sign a five year extension? Masai Ujiri to deliver a state of the union on load management? Perhaps a Blake Murphy 10-day contract was incoming? Everything was on the table. And although none of those things ended up coming true, Sean Woodley rightfully pointed out that New Balance is still the number one sneaker in Japan so there may be some deeper meaning after all.
Danny Green’s Defense
Shoutout to Danny Green, man. Whenever the Raptors face a dynamic wing like James Harden or Victor Oladipo, Green always takes the assignment to heart and gives his best effort. Against Houston on Wednesday, Green followed the game plan, often picking Harden up full-court and courting him into the midrange, limiting his three-point attempts (Harden was 3-for-9 from three, a mark below his league-leading 13.5 attempts per game). The savvy and guts Green shows in his daily defensive assignments is commendable. His defensive rating speaks highly of him too. Pascal Siakam and Green are neck-and-neck for the top defensive rating among Raptors’ rotation players with Siakam leading the way at a 104.3 points allowed per 100 possesions.
Jeremy Lin’s Efficiency
Poor Jeremy Lin. He just can’t seem to buy a bucket. In three games this week he shot 5-21 from the field — and is still searching for his first three pointer with the Raptors. This isn’t typical for Lin either. He was a relatively efficient player with Atlanta earlier in the season, shooting 46.6% on two-point field goals and 33.3% on three-point field goals. The rest of his game looks smooth, so the efficiency should come around. His quickness and pick-and-roll chops are plain to see whenever he steps in a game. Maybe his adjustment will be to step off the gas and let the game come to him, because it looks like he is pressing to generate offense in bench-heavy lineups.
The Raptors have a unique recent history of five-man bench units. The Bench Mob last season was one of the most enjoyable Raptors experiences to date. It was a beautiful display of basketball, showing the possibilities of simply playing on a string. This season however, has not been nearly as beautiful. The current iteration — typically Lin, Powell, McCaw, Anunoby, and Ibaka/ Gasol — suffer from a lack of efficient shot creation and shooting. To Nick Nurse’s credit he moved away from these all-bench lineups in the Houston game, getting Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam some run, but it still felt like a half measure. The temptation to group the starters together for long stretches isn’t a realistic option in the playoffs and has many fans clamouring over more aggressive staggering — something we have not seen this season.
The 14th spot is just sitting there, isn’t it, waiting for beloved Jodie Meeks. The Raptors, with their roster at 13, are likely waiting until March 15th (the last day to get to 14 on the roster) to make a signing, saving a little tax money along the way.
The debate for that spot is pretty simple: Do you want Meeks or a power forward/ center type? I personally think Meeks’ shooting ability is good fit for a bench that features inconsistent guard play. Of course, the Raptors could sign both a 14th and 15th player and get insurance across the board, but I guess we’ll see.