I just want a healthy Raptors team. There is no phrase that I hate writing more than “since the injuries.” It upsets me. It reminds me that they’re still injured, and that three of them happened on one cursed night in Detroit.
Once again, heavy and serious feels apt, but here in the Four Quarters, we stay light and unserious. So, without further ado, here’s tip-off, and we’re underway:
1. The Optimist’s View
Raptors fans, myself included, are often guilty of viewing their team through rose-coloured glasses. Where the outside world sees cause for concern about our beloved team, we see room to grow, positive signs, and small victories. The Optimist’s View gives a positive spin on an otherwise would-be negative.
This Week’s View - We’re developing guys and seeing what we have.
It is now that we need optimism more than ever. A hamstring injury to Fred VanVleet has made an already upsetting injury situation verge on downright depressing. Watching the Raptors lately has been like going to a Guns N’ Roses concert pre-reunion, where Axl Rose, the only original member, is surrounded by replacement musicians. They’re still playing the same songs, and may even bust out some new tricks that surprise and impress, but they aren’t the group we came to see.
A Guns N’ Roses optimist, however, would give the new guys some time. With a little practice and repetition, they could be just as good as Slash and Duff, right? That is the mantra that Raptors optimists must adopt. Then, when the original members return they have musicians that can come in occasionally when the starters get tired, and even when they’re not in we’ll recognize them singing along from a bench beside the stage and… Okay, so maybe it’s not a perfect metaphor, but the sentiment stands.
The Toronto Raptors franchise would not have the success that it has had recently without finding untapped talent on the fringes, then shaping and molding that talent into a piece that fits with the team. This process has been kicked into overdrive, as this stretch has given Nick Nurse the opportunity to test out players who otherwise may not even see the floor. This week, Nurse leaned on a lineup with Patrick McCaw, Stanley Johnson, Oshae Brissett, Matt Thomas, and Chris Boucher — five guys who could get a DNP-CD and it wouldn’t shock me (although Boucher is making that move more difficult, and Nurse remains inexplicably enamored with McCaw).
Every minute these guys play accomplishes two things — the players get legitimate, non-garbage time NBA repetitions, and Nurse gets to see how he could best use these guys when the games start to mean more. The Canadians in particular, Boucher and Brissett, have improved noticeably. I am confident that Boucher could make an impact in a playoff game, and more controlled, energetic play by Brissett would get me leaning in that direction as well. The development on the fringes only serves to strengthen a fully healthy Raptors squad.
2. Most Relatable Moment
It can feel like professional athletes inhabit a different world entirely than the average human being. However, every so often, they’ll do something that reminds us that they’re people just like us. Here is the Most Relatable Moment from this week in Raptors basketball.
The Moment – Nick Nurse’s clean shave
In the game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Nick Nurse was sporting his signature goatee. The next night, the Raptors travelled to Charlotte to take on the Hornets, and his facial hair had vanished. You may think that this is coincidental. I certainly do not. Let’s examine the facts.
- Nick Nurse is a goatee man through and through. This cannot be understated. A man who makes a point to maintain a tight goatee is not one to just shave randomly. He has a keen awareness of the hair on his face.
- This was the second night of a back-to-back. NBA coaches are busy as is. This night would presumably be particularly busy, as Nurse is always trying to tinker with his team to find the ideal game plan, a team that has been in a constant state of flux with the injuries.
- The Raptors travelled from Toronto to Charlotte in less than 24 hours. Charlotte is not exactly a coast-to-coast flight, but it’s not just a short trip over the border either. The travel is still time consuming.
- The Raptors lost a tight game to the Trail Blazers the night before, a game they should have won. A team would crave a fresh start after a game like that.
This was no aesthetic shave — this was rooted in superstition. Nurse does not seem the type to shoehorn a shave into a busy day. His shave sent a message – the team needed a fresh start.
This is something we all have done. When a shake-up is needed, we feel that some alteration to our physical appearance will signify meaningful change, and more effectively bring it about. Sometimes that means a haircut, other times a fashion adjustment. If I’m slumping at work, there’s always the thought that a fresh new cardigan will turn things around.
This was a subtle change by Nurse, but it did not go unnoticed. Since the shave? 1-0.
3. Sports Psychology Corner:
An attempt to explain on-court occurrences through the mental aspect of the game.
The Case Study – Kyle Lowry vs. Jarrett Allen
In the third quarter of the Raptors game against the Nets, Kyle Lowry got a bit tangled up with centre Jarrett Allen. With their arms intertwined, Lowry pulled down on Allen, in a move that he eventually be assessed a flagrant foul for. Allen was clearly bothered by Lowry’s actions, and made a movement toward him.
Kyle Lowry has a perpetually pissed off nature, initially problematic to his career but has since been channelled towards team success in his time with the Raptors. Nonetheless, his edge persists, so when Allen — a man who stands roughly a foot taller than Lowry — advanced, Lowry was not intimidated. Lowry gave a smirk, and asked “what are you going to do?” Allen paused, and Lowry’s point was made. Add it to the long list of almost-fights for Lowry, and I suppose this one was technically a win for Lowry.
That altercation clearly sparked Lowry. Prior to that point in the game, he only had 6 points. Since his tussle with Allen, Lowry racked up a noisy 20 points. He played with the confidence of someone who had just come out victorious in a conflict. That little mental W that Lowry had over Allen made him feel temporarily invincible.
Victory leads to an increase in testosterone and triggers the brain in a manner that makes one feel better and more confident. Lowry’s experience reflects this phenomenon, as he rode the hormonal wave to a dynamite performance in the fourth quarter. Seemingly, as Lowry got hot and the Raptors pulled away from the Nets, this confidence snowballed, and his swagger magnified, becoming increasingly demonstrative. As Raptors fans, we can only hope to see this happen in a pivotal game, knowing that it means we can sit back and enjoy the Lowry show.
4. Raptors Debate Show
American debate shows seemingly have little time for the Toronto Raptors. As a result, I have decided to give extreme, manufactured takes about the team a platform in Debatin’ the Dinos. Conveniently, this also will be an outlet for me to air out the ongoing debate that rages inside my head about the team. This week, I’ve named the debaters. Let’s see how that goes.
The Question: Which player not named Pascal Siakam do the Raptors need back the most?
Gord McNaughton: “This is an easy one. It’s Fred VanVleet. If he had been healthy all season, playing the way he had been playing, he’d be a lock for the All-Star team, and maybe in the conversation as a starter. He’s averaging a tidy 18 and 7, and is a floor general. He knows exactly what his team needs from him and when they need it. You can always trust him with the ball, and when no one wants to take the big shot? Hoo-boy, we’ve seen the cojones on this guy on the biggest stage and he DOES. NOT. GET. SCARED. I love Powell, I love Gasol, but we need Steady Freddie.”
Brandon Bell: “Now, I understand what you are saying, and I respect it. VanVleet has been great. He’s a guy you want in your foxhole. HOWEVER, the Raptors have a great point guard already. Nobody on this team can do what Marc Gasol does. Nobody IN THE NBA defends big men like Marc Gasol. NOBODY! There’s one man. ONE. MAN. in this league that keeps Joel Embiid up at night, and it’s that big, doughy Spaniard that we have up here in the 6ix. He is the cleverest defender I have seen; the Raptors are a different team with him on the floor, and they NEED HIM BACK. BADLY!”
McNaughton: “Now, Mr. Bell, I know Gasol WAS a great player, and can still do some things, but the man is averaging 6.6 points! 6.6! How could it be possible that he is more important than VanVleet? And you want to talk about defence? VanVleet plays D about as well as any point guard out there. If you’re dribbling the ball anywhere near him, you’d better look out cause this man will pick your pocket and be on the next train to the hoop before you know what happened.”
Bell: “Yes, he’s a great point guard, but Gasol is SINGULARLY valuable. He is a player we absolutely need against our top opponents. On offense? It’s not like the Monstars stole his talent! He’s still a good player and can score when he needs, but he is just the consummate teammate. He turns down a shot for himself for a better one for his teammate. The Raptors turned into the best three-point shooting team in the league since they traded for him last season. They’ve carried that into this season – his passing from the centre position opens up so much for the Raptors offense. One more thing… The Raptors are 12 points better per 100 possessions with Gasol on the floor according to Cleaning the Glass. That cannot be ignored.”
McNaughton: “You have not changed my mind, but I think we can agree we just want this team to be healthy.”
Bell: “Yes, I’m tired of injuries.”
There’s the buzzer, and the culmination of another edition of Four Quarters. Stay strong Raptors fans, soon our health will return, and the Optimist may just explode.