Though we agree the final score couldn’t matter less in the preseason, I still disagree with the notion that any takeaways from exhibition games are null and void. Of course, we’re all still getting used to the NBA’s return — including the players — and so while I wouldn’t necessarily rush to make any definitive statements just yet, some attributes on the court stood out for the Raptors.
OG Anunoby’s handle looks much improved, and, while admittedly subtle, his frame appears more defined too. Matt Thomas’ three-point prowess was on full display, as was Malachi Flynn’s playmaking and poise, which appear to be especially strong for a rookie. Paul Watson Jr. and DeAndre’ Bembry both injected some energy late in the game.
LaMelo Ball’s preseason debut was exciting, conjuring up a couple Magic-like, behind-the-back passes, though he’s yet to score his first NBA points. We’ll see if his shot can fall tonight after going 0-for-5 in Saturday night’s outing. Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges both provided some much-needed scoring for the Hornets, along with Bismack Biyombo, who decimated the Raptors in the paint.
Tonight, the Raptors face off against the Hornets once again, so it’ll be interesting to see the changes that Nick Nurse employs. Toronto’s coach has been clear about wanting to experiment with lineups early in the season to scout the newer additions’ strengths and weaknesses, such that he can find an eighth man quickly and establish a rotation. At this point, I would hope to see Flynn receive some regular minutes when the season begins, but we’ll see how he performs moving forward. Anyway, it’s still too early to make any decisions regarding the roster — depending on what happens tonight, the conversation could look very different tomorrow.
Here are the game details:
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Charlotte – LaMelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham, Gordon Hayward, PJ Washington, Cody Zeller
Toronto – Kyle Lowry (Day-to-day – Undisclosed reason), Patrick McCaw (Day-to-day – Knee)
Charlotte – Malik Monk (Day-to-day – illness)
Fire & Ice
Have the Raptors found their newest backcourt tandem? Malachi Flynn and Matt Thomas have already shown signs of serious chemistry, finding one another for open shots while showing off their playmaking chops. Thomas has made several notable improvements to his game, both in terms of scoring and finding the open man. His ability to put the ball on the floor and find cutters has improved significantly, expanding his confidence beyond the borders of strictly three-point shooting. In fact, he even made a couple nice cuts to the basket himself.
Flynn just kept making the right decisions on Saturday night. He seems to know exactly where to position himself on the court, leading to a much smoother bench offense than one would have previously anticipated. Whether spotting up for a jumper or swinging the ball around the perimeter, Flynn’s natural ability to make the right decision on the court reminds me of Kyle Lowry. He thrives as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations and knows when to dish to a player with momentum in the open court. Assuming Matt Thomas keeps up his defensive energy, I can see these two thriving together for a long time.
Centre of Attention
Aron Baynes played limited minutes in his Raptors preseason debut, but we’re already seeing a bit of what he can do. He’s disciplined when it comes to boxing out and preparing for the rebound, though his awareness to step up and provide help on the inside leaves something to be desired. I’ll be curious to see if it improves over the course of the season, after learning the Raptors’ defensive schemes.
For a couple years, Toronto was spoiled by watching Marc Gasol terrorize opposing centres on the defensive end while providing valuable secondary playmaking abilities. Baynes does not have the same brilliant basketball mind, though he excels in different areas where Marc was lacking. For example, Baynes started off the game with a nifty, graceful lefty hook shot in the post. The added benefit of a post presence can go a long way in expanding the variety of attacks the Raptors can employ on the offensive end.
OG’s Continued Brilliance
Before entering the NBA Bubble, OG Anunoby was viewed as a fierce defensive presence with a serviceable three-point shot and offensive upside. However, his ability to put the ball on the floor was lacking, and his movements always appeared a bit awkward when driving to the rim. We all saw a different player once he arrived in Orlando, though. His handle seemed to have improved significantly, opening a plethora of different ways he can be utilized. His confidence in putting the ball on the floor blossomed from when last season was temporarily halted in March due to COVID.
With a new season upon us, OG has looked even better. In preseason media interviews, he mentioned how his offseason consisted of working mainly on his handle, and it shows. OG has recently spoken about how he wants to contribute more meaningfully to the Raptors’ offense, and I believe we’re in for a season chock-full of exactly that. OG’s newfound propensity to create for himself is huge, and opens a whole smorgasbord of different ways the Raptors can utilize the pieces around him.