This past week was a sorely-needed and much-deserved slow week for the Toronto Raptors. With only two games taking place, the team had a chance to ease their multiple returning players back into the lineup and begin the process of reintegrating them to the team. They finished with a record of 1-1, but look primed to go on a bit of a run in the coming weeks between their health and upcoming schedule.
Though there is less content to draw from this week, the Four Quarters trudges on, remaining, as always, light and unserious.
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 - OG Anunoby is better with Pascal and Marc.
Part of the Optimist’s job is to take a tiny sample size and infer that there is a pattern that will maintain for the season. This week, we are examining the relationship between the presence of Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby’s success. OG Anunoby had a tough stretch with these guys out, but the Optimist is confident he’ll turn it around. Let’s start with some raw numbers.
With just Siakam playing on Sunday, Anunoby had a quiet, but efficient night shooting 3-for-5 with eight points. With both Siakam and Gasol? He shot 8-for-13 from the floor, and 3-for-6 from deep for a total of 21 points. Tack on five assists, and that’s about as well rounded an offensive game that Anunoby has had. While it was disappointing that Anunoby didn’t take on more of an offensive load in their absence, it is clear that he thrives in a role as a third or fourth option.
The attention that Siakam draws combined with the playmaking of Gasol opens up the floor for Anunoby’s shooting and driving. I mentioned that the sample size was small, but if we examine the entire season, Anunoby consistently performs better with those guys in the lineup. With Siakam and Gasol in, he has averaged 12.2 points per game on 39% shooting from three. Without them? 10.2 points on 35% three-point shooting. This is a thing.
It shows on defense too. Anonuby looked like the All-Defense candidate that he appeared to be at the start of the season on Wednesday. He racked up three steals and was a general disruptor for the Thunder offense. This might simply come from trusting that Siakam and Gasol are doing their job, so Anunoby can play aggressive knowing that they are behind him. Additionally, Gasol has a reputation as a defensive quarterback, and that leadership from a smart centre might be the key to unlocking Anunoby’s defensive potential.
The rules of optimistic Raptors fandom mandate that we express certainty that a healthy Raptors squad means Anunoby gets to pick back up on a breakout year.
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 – Siakam running out of gas.
Raptors fans addressed the return of Pascal Siakam with cautious optimism. We were excited to have him back, but experiences from this season had shown that players are not automatically prepared to perform to their peak in their first game back following an injury (eg. Kyle Lowry shooting 2-for-18 against the Miami Heat). When the game got going, however, any caution was thrown out the window as Siakam set the Scotiabank Arena nets ablaze.
He started the game 5-for-7 with two three-pointers for 12 points, reminding the league why he is looking like a shoo-in for a starting spot in the All-Star game. But after that point Siakam went 1-for-10 to finish 6-for—17, with one of those misses coming on an easy look that would have set the Raptors up to win. Pascal Siakam ran out of gas.
Obviously, it goes without saying that professional athletes are more coordinated, faster, stronger, and much cooler that us normies. What also separates them, however, is their ability to do the really cool and athletic things that they do over and over. Their fitness levels are astounding, especially in a sport where you can essentially run sprints up and down the court and then be expected to be focused and coordinated. Siakam was returning from a lower body injury, and likely was unable to maintain his cardiovascular superiority during his recovery.
Enjoy this moment, Raptors fans, because this may have been the most relatable moment that Pascal Siakam will have for the remainder of his career. Take every chance you can to say that he needs to be running some suicides between games, like you used to in high school. Note that some of his shots didn’t have the distance, which can only mean he was exhausted. Share some anecdotes from your last run at the YMCA, where you started hot but just didn’t have the juice to finish the game strong.
It was perfectly excusable for this to happen to Siakam given the circumstances, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take this opportunity to relate to the way in which he slowed down.
3. Sports Psychology Corner
An attempt to explain on-court occurrences through the mental aspect of the game.
The Case Study - The Raptors letting leads slip away.
An unfortunate trend emerging for the Raptors this week is their tendency to let big leads slip away. In both games this week, Toronto controlled the game for the first three quarters, only to see the deficits dwindle as the fourth quarter progressed. They lost the game against San Antonio after taking a twelve-point lead into the fourth and held on in Oklahoma City after allowing a thirty-point deficit shrink to four. This is coming off a week where they lost to Portland after dominating the entire game.
Although it is a positive sign that the Raptors are getting out to these big leads, letting teams back into these games is mentally draining. Toronto is readjusting to life as the more talented team. Over the stretch with all the injured players, every single game felt like an uphill climb for the full 48 minutes.
With their studs back in the lineup the Raptors were able to climb out to some early leads with what felt like relative ease. That recalibrated their expectations for how the remainder of the game would go. The Raptors clearly felt as if they could coast and still comfortably win. Against two smart and well-coached teams, however, that strategy will not work.
The Raptors overcorrected mentally with all the talent that they now have at their disposal and need to return to being the team that nobody wants to play against. 48 minutes of effort with the talent that this team has is a recipe for a win against any team in the NBA. Though they are the defending champions, the Raptors are not the Golden State Warriors, who relied on short bursts of effort to win games. Instead, this team needs a sustained effort to win, something that they have to adjust to even with their full complement of good basketball players.
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: Who should start at 2-guard when VanVleet returns?
Donovan Bell: “At the end of the day, it’s more about who closes the game than who starts. That being said, having the right lineups throughout the game can be the difference between winning and losing. So, let’s think about how the lineups fit together. In my opinion, why not start a shooting guard… AT SHOOTING GUARD?! Norman Powell has played more than well enough to justify a starting spot, and he fits perfectly in with the rest of the lineup. The Raptors are in desperate need of playmaking off the bench too, and Fred VanVleet covers that for the team. It just makes more sense this way.”
Gord McNaughton: “NBA teams are the best when their best players play. I love Norm. Fred VanVleet is a better player. VanVleet might be the third best player on the team. He is versatile enough to switch back and forth from a lead ballhandler to an off-ball threat. He can defend point guards and battle bigger players. The Raptors have been making dual point guard lineups work for years. This is no different. Toronto needs as much VanVleet as possible. Bring Norm off the bench for some scoring punch.”
Bell: “I agree, VanVleet is important, but think about this. We first fell in love with Freddie when he was running the Bench Mob. With VanVleet coming off the bench, this team has the personnel for a revamped Raptors Bench Mob. Powell adds scoring punch to the starters, and VanVleet brings a steady hand to the bench. With a strong bench, and a deadly starting lineup, these Raptors can give teams 48 minutes of hell.
McNaughton: “Is our goal here to win games? Or is it to have a nostalgic season where we recreate the Bench Mob? We might as well trade for DeRozan and Poeltl! Get us Terrence Ross, why don’t you? NO! Fred VanVleet has played at an All-Star caliber level. Give him the start, and let Powell provide some punch off the bench.
Bell: “Are you telling me the Bench Mob wasn’t effective? That it didn’t help the Raptors win games? Replacing VanVleet with Powell as a starter does not weaken the starting lineup. In fact, it adds an element of energy and unpredictability offensively. Putting VanVleet with the reserves, however, completely changes the outlook of the Raptors bench. It just makes the Raptors a scarier team for the whole game.”
McNaughton: “The Raptors are scarier when their best players are on the floor. Start VanVleet. Keep doing what was working. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
And there is the buzzer, once again concluding Four Quarters for this week.