Our Toronto Raptors are in Florida. That’s pretty scary, considering what’s happening there. But, whether it’s safe or not, whether it’s the right time or not, the NBA re-start appears to be happening. That means there’s actual basketball to be played! And we get one more chance to root for one of the most enjoyable teams in memory, the defending NBA champions. So let’s aside the questions for a moment and think about who’s taking the court in Florida.
Below are five players I’m really looking forward to seeing next month. Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing everyone, and Nick Nurse too, but these are the ones that I think might make an unexpected impact or turn some heads within the bubble. Let’s go!
Key stat: 7-for-24 (Davis’ shooting the last six games before the shutdown)
I don’t think it’s a stretch to sat that Terence Davis had hit the rookie wall when the season stalled out, so the break likely came at a good time for him. I would imagine that he needed the break, both from a physical and mental standpoint; the NBA season is a long one for rookies. The pause and restart gives Davis a chance to find his shot again, and find his role again, one that he was steadily losing to (gulp) Patrick McCaw.
That’s not a sure thing, of course. Although by all accounts Terence is a mature young man, asking any 22-year old to remain disciplined and stay in shape for three months, while being stuck at home, is a lot to ask. And I could say this about all the players on this list, and frankly about just about anyone in the world right now; the mental health aspect of self-isolation and social distancing is not one to be ignored, and maintaining work-related productivity during this time should not necessarily be anyone’s primary goal.
So there’s no promise that TDII comes to Florida in shape or in the right mindset. But I’m rooting for him, to come through the other side of that valley he was in back in March and resume this season on the upswing.
Key stat: .629 (Powell’s true shooting percentage this season)
I’ve written this a dozen times, but I’ve been rooting for Norman Powell to put it together for years, and after bouts pf playoff brilliance and extended shooting slumps and everything in between, in 2019-20 it was finally happening. Powell was having his best season ever, his shot was falling consistently and he was making better decisions on drives and in the open court.
Naturally, it couldn’t all be perfect — injuries kept trying to derail Norm’s season. But each time he came back, and played just as well (if not better!) than before. He was on the shelf again before the shutdown (although he was just about to come back). So: will this three-month pause be just another blip in Powell’s breakout season? It’s a hell of a long time to be off, much longer than his in-season injuries, and all the caveats mentioned with Davis stand for Norm (and everyone else). It’ll be a test of Powell’s resilience to be sure. But if he can bring the same consistency and hot shooting to Florida it’ll be great to see.
I assume Powell will continue to come off the bench, behind Fred VanVleet, but with Norm’s scoring punch and a full roster of healthy bodies, that should mean the second unit doesn’t suffer through long scoring droughts as they sometimes did earlier in the season.
Key stat: 62 (how many regular season games Marc Gasol has played as a Raptor)
With the pandemic stretching time into an endless dirt road under a cloudy grey sky, it feels like Marc Gasol has been a Raptors for about five years. But it’s only been about 17 months, and since he missed half of this season with a hamstring injury, he still has yet to play a full season’s worth of games with the Raps. And since we’ve only got eight more to go before Marc becomes a free agent, he (likely) never will. Which is a bummer.
Now, we did get 24 playoff games out of Gasol last year, and hopefully we’ll get just as many this year. And, now apparently Marc is skinny all of a sudden? Not that that matters, as long as we get to see him healthy and in action on the court! Even though he’s only played 26 games with this year’s team, Gasol’s defensive smarts and passing ability have been imprinted on the team, even when he’s not on the court. Hopefully that means the team is even better defensively when he is on the court!
On the other end, I’ll admit that I’ve been consistently frustrated by Gasol’s hesitancy to look for his own offense. But, Powell, Davis and Serge Ibaka have all picked up some scoring slack this year, and Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are still doing their thing, and Matt Thomas is another potential outlet for slick Gasol passes (more on him later). So the team shouldn’t need Gasol to be a scoring threat.
Regardless, I just want to see “Big Spain” play as many games in a Raptors uniform as possible before he hits free agency.
Key stat: .381 (Anunoby’s shooting percentage from downtown).
I think some people have been disappointed by OG Anunoby’s 2019-20 season to date. There may have been too many “he’s gonna make a Pascal Siakam-like leap in year three!” prognostications in the pre-season. That leap didn’t happen, and that expectation was way too high (Siakam is clearly an outlier); combined with some extended shooting slumps (21% from downtown in the month of December) and I guess that’s a recipe for disappointment.
But only on the surface. Look a little deeper, and OG is still having a heck of a season. He’s the best one-on-one perimeter defender on the team, and he can play bigger than his position on D too, without backing down from anyone (what’s up Rudy Gobert). He’s excellent at helping-and-recovering, and great in transition as well. The Raptors aren’t the second-best defensive team without OG, period. And those shooting numbers? Despite that December slump, on the season he’s still at 51% from the floor and 38% from downtown, numbers that are pretty darn excellent. (His free throw shooting needs some work, to be sure.)
So, I’m really looking forward to seeing OG on this fully healthy (fingers crossed) Raptors team. His scoring might dip, but with a healthy Marc Gasol quarterbacking the D behind him, I bet Anunoby’s impact on that end becomes even greater (and I bet he’ll be the recipient of a few Gasol outlet passes too).
Key stat: 60 (minutes that Thomas has shared the court with Marc Gasol).
I mentioned to potential Gasol-to-Thomas connection earlier, and so I looked up how much the two of them have played together. 60 minutes is actually more than I thought! Thomas has only played 321 minutes total. So maybe that connection isn’t gonna be all that. And it may seem like, with a fully healthy squad, Thomas will have even fewer opportunities to play; if Powell and Davis are ahead of him in the rotation coming off the bench, and Patrick McCaw is still the apple of Nick Nurse’s eye, where does Thomas fit?
At the same time, Thomas’ main skill is still one that can benefit the Raptors, despite his other weaknesses, so I hope there are still minutes to be found. And the thing about Gasol is, he can cover a lot of mistakes on defense that a weaker defender like Thomas might make. Marc also sets the best screens on the team, another benefit to Thomas.
Nick Nurse has proven his creativity many times over, and I have to think he’s got something up his sleeve to get Thomas more minutes, and more open looks.
Who or what are you looking forward to seeing from the Raptors when the season resumes? Kyle Lowry outlet passes? Pascal Siakam above-the-break threes? Hit us up in the comments.