Last night’s tilt between the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets was only preseason game number two, and yet, it felt like game number six or seven, didn’t it? (Remember when teams used to play eight exhibition games!?) Neither starting group seemed particularly into it, hardly anyone could be bothered to play defense, and plenty of reserves tried their hardest to make an impression.
Let’s run down a quick few thoughts on the Raptors’ 112-109 win, and then thank the Basketball Gods that the regular season starts in a week!
Slow Starts a Concern?
That’s two straight games the Raptors have fallen behind early, with the starters looking a bit discombobulated (or, perhaps, just disinterested). The offense looked sloppy, with turnovers galore, and the defensive effort just wasn’t there.
Is there concern that these veteran Raptors, so used to winning, are becoming a “flip the switch” team? One that only plays hard when it truly matters, and thinks it can just coast by the rest of the team.
Nah, I don’t think so. Guys like Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam care too much about winning; I think VanVleet and Siakam are just pacing themselves, and Aron Baynes is still getting used to his new teammates. And let’s not forget they’re without their floor general too. They’ll be fine.
Not Worried About Fred Either
I was a little concerned after Saturday’s game about Fred VanVleet’s conditioning; he looked a little slow out there. No more concerns after last night though — he looked great, digging down to get steals and dropping bombs the other way, and throwing in a few nice drives off of hesitation moves as well.
Maybe he needed a little beef with the the officials to get him going? Unhappy with the calls in the first half, Fred got T’ed up halfway through the second quarter. He then fully channeled Kyle “Don’t Poke the Bear” Lowry over the next seven minutes, where he hit all five shots he took, four of which were threes, the last of these a double-clutch buzzer beater at the end of the half.
Yeah, Fred’s fine too.
Pascal, Show Me a Little More
Through two games, Pascal Siakam’s jump shot has looked very nice (well, expect for those two airballs last night). But he hasn’t shown a lot of action going to the rim; he has just four shots in the paint in 17 total attempts, and only one make.
Given that Siakam struggled mightily in the paint during the bubble, it’s a little concerning that he’s not initiating more drives or that the offense isn’t getting him the ball inside more. I know, I know, it’s the preseason, no Lowry etc. But hopefully there’s no lingering insecurity about finishing at the rim in Siakam’s head. Because the Raps need his ability to score inside and out to balance their offense.
New Raptors assistant Chris Finch made it a point in his preseason availability to stress movement and cutting as a way to open up the Raptors’ half court offense more, and we saw plenty of that last night.
With 1:30 left in the first half, VanVleet dished the ball to Siakam in the post, and then cut hard to Siakam’s right, taking a handoff and getting an easy layup. The very next play, DeAndre’ Bembry made a nice baseline cut as VanVleet moved the ball out of the corner (though he couldn’t finish the play).
There were even more in the second half, including Norman Powell making two nice baseline cuts and more from Bembry, who moves very well without the ball. Even Yuta Watanabe made a nice cut in the third to get an open look.
It’s only preseason but that kind of movement sure looked better than so much standing around that we saw last season.
Oh Yeah, Malachi Flynn
So who had rookie Malachi Flynn following up his 3-for-7, nine-point debut with a 7-for-12, 17 point second game? I am fully eating my “I don’t think this guy will play much” words now, because, uh, this guy can play.
Perhaps the most exciting thing to me about Flynn is the poise and stability he shows as a point guard. It often takes young PGs a season or two to get used to the speed and responsibility of being the lead guard, but Flynn looks fully capable of playing point in the NBA right now. And that means — hopefully — more off-ball opportunities for Fred VanVleet, which is where he excels and seems more suited to playing, rather than as a point guard.
Flynn’s ability to play might also mean reduced minutes overall for both Lowry and VanVleet, another bonus. That Flynn-Terence Davis-Matt Thomas lineup was a really nice balance of a passing guard who can shoot in Flynn, an aggressive scorer in Davis, and a pure shooter in Thomas.
Again — it’s preseason. Flynn will have rookie moments, like all rookies do, and there will be times Nick Nurse will not fully trust him. But early on, he’s making his case for a role in the rotation.
One more of these to go — a real test, against last year’s runners-up, the Miami Heat. Hopefully Kyle Lowry will be ready to go and we’ll see the full team in action before the real season kicks off.