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Toronto Temperature: The preseason is underway and the Raptors are already hot

Save for a couple of jittery first quarters, the Raptors look to have already found their rhythm as they prepare for the 2020-21 season.

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets
Fred VanVleet celebrates after hitting a double clutch buzzer beater.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

And we’re back! After a hiatus that was entirely too brief for good teams and entirely too long for bad ones, NBA action has returned in the form of the dreaded hyperbolic chamber known as: the Preseason. This type of basketball offers fans the immaculate opportunity to perform such hits as, “It Doesn’t Matter, These Games Don’t Count” and “Did You See Him in Last Night’s Game? This Guy’s Gonna Be a Star.”

Due to the lack of a Summer League (shoutout to Summer League, I love and miss you), it seems that those aforementioned hits are a little more amplified than normal. And with that, it only feels right to lean right in and belt ‘em out.

Who’s Hot

Malachi Flynn, ROY

This section really deserves to be all about Malachi, but come on, how do the Raptors keep doing this? Masai and co. drafted OG at 23, Pascal at 27, Flynn at 29, and managed to find Fred VanVleet and [redacted] in the unsigned bin. The real rub here is that not only are they finding these guys, but they’re developing them into what can only be described as the absolute best version of themselves on the basketball court.

Did you see Malachi Flynn in the first two preseason games against the Charlotte Hornets? This guy’s gonna be a star.

Perhaps the focus should be on the guy who’s being crowned as a possibility for Rookie of the Year before any games had been played? Here’s a LaMelo Ball highlight.

Flynn may not have the flash of Ball with the rock in his hand, but you know what? He’s sound, plays defense with his feet, and can absolutely stroke it from deep. Get the hardware out.

Fred VanVleet, Worth Every Bet

If there was ever any thought around VanVleet having a contract year and then regressing to something worse than what he became during that 2019 Championship run, then you probably don’t watch Raptors basketball. VanVleet has more than earned his nickname and continues to prove any of his remaining naysayers wrong. Fred shows up, takes good shots, makes perfect defensive reads and builds up his teammates. Moreover, he’s started to show progression in the drive-and-kick game that left him exposed in the paint last season.

Yes, it’s only the preseason, but Steady Freddy looks to be in midseason form only with a much, much stronger tan. Tampa is going to treat VanVleet very well.

The Red Jersey, Better Than Expected

When the photo of the Raptors new red jersey hanging on a clearance hanger in a department store leaked, there was, understandably, some rancor. Twitter gathered in hordes to call the jersey lazy, uninspired, and downright unnecessary. Well, the echo chamber eventually calmed down and now we’re seeing the Raptors finally playing in the jerseys rather than merely viewing them under flourescent tube lighting.

And you know what, they actually look pretty damn good.

Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets
Fred VanVleet in the Raptors’ new red jersey.
Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Will the white jerseys look as good? Time will surely tell.

Who’s Not

Any Theories About Why Kyle Isn’t Playing, Nonsense

As you may or may not have noticed, Raptors fans have yet to get a glimpse of Kyle Lowry on the basketball court. Because of that, the hot takes have been swirling around why that is. Disregard the fact that he’s almost 35 years old, it’s the preseason, it’s the Hornets, it’s a pandemic and the team has been uprooted from it’s home — wait, don’t disregard any of that! Regard it all! Those are all very good reasons why Lowry hasn’t stepped foot on the court this year.

So tuck your Twitter fingers and trade machines away and get ready for Kyle to make his return whenever he damn well pleases.

Any and All Centres, Cause for Concern

If you recall from the jump of this article, there’s a popular preseason song about these games not really mattering when things aren’t going the way you’d hoped they would. That may well be, but if there has been a glaring weakness throughout the Raptors first two preseason games, it’s been the centre position.

Newcomer Aron Baynes is coming off an offseason where he contracted COVID-19, welcomed a brand new baby into his life, and is having to learn one of the most complicated defenses in the NBA.

Those qualifiers earn Baynes a considerable amount of slack and, after all, this is what the preseason is for! Having said that, Baynes has looked a step slow and out of place in the Toronto rotation. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s replacing one of the greatest defensive centres to play the game, this would all be a little less pronounced.

Unfortunately, Chris Boucher, who should at this point know better, has not looked like a better option. After having a fine first game, Boucher somehow looked hesitant on offense in the second — and in both contests, was wildly inconsistent with his timing on the defensive end. Couple that concern with the Raptors other new centre signing, Alex Len and his disappointing late-game minutes, and the cause for concern starts to resonate a little louder.

Any Thoughts About Fred Ever Signing Elsewhere, Sorrowful

Gosh, could you imagine if the rumours came true and Fred signed with either the Knicks or the Pistons? The image of VanVleet sharing a backcourt with Austin Rivers or toiling away in whatever system the Pistons have been put in place is downright harrowing.