The regular season is over at long last, and would you look at that: The Raptors have posted the best winning percentage in franchise history and finished 2019-20 with the second best record in the league. Not bad for a team some predicted to miss the playoffs, eh?
Before we get to the final thoughts of the regular season, a reminder yet again that inequality and systemic racism are found just about everywhere, including in the media. The Raptors media, including Raptors HQ, have made a donation Canadian Journalists of Color to support their mission of creating a media landscape that better reflects Canada’s diverse population. It’s a small thing, but every little bit helps.
On to the thoughts:
1. Is That a “Real” 7-1 Record?
So what do we make of the Raptors’ performance here in the Bubble? They came in facing one of the toughest eight-game schedules in the league, and came out with seven wins and the second-best Bubble record.
But the last three of those wins were in games when neither team had anything to play for, when both teams were resting key players. And that one loss, well, it came in the only game that really mattered, and the Raptors were just plain awful in that game.
As for how the Raptors played, well, defensively they were excellent, as they have been all year; they were the top-ranked defensive team in the Bubble. But offensively, they somehow got worse. Out of the 22 Bubble teams, the Raptors are 17th in points per game (12th pre-Bubble), 19th in offensive rating (12th) and 19th in halfcourt scoring (points per possession) (14th).
So, while I think the Raptors should be proud of what they accomplished this season, including that 7-1 Bubble record, there’s still room for improvement.
2. Is That the Real Stanley Johnson?
Nothing like waiting until the final five quarters of the season to show everyone what you can do! That’s what Stanley Johnson did this week, showing all of the promise and potential that made him a lottery pick five years ago. The strength and size, the finishing ability, and even a decent shooting touch... and a career-high-tying six assists too!
As I said on Thursday, I’m happy for Stanley, and I hope this does give him confidence going forward — especially since he’s under contract next year (assuming he opts in, which I can’t imagine he wouldn’t). I don’t see him having a role in the playoffs, but hopefully he can work on his handle and decision-making in the offseason, and come back with a renewed commitment on defense, and maybe he can work his way into the rotation next year.
3. TDII Back?
Terence Davis played like the Terence Davis of old (yes, six months ago qualifies as “of old” these days) for the first 12 minutes yesterday, scoring 12 points on six shots with three boards and two assists. It was great to see, especially after he struggled to even stay on the floor in the previous two games, fouling out of both. Is it enough to give me confidence in his being the Raptors’ eighth man in the playoffs?
I don’t know. His shot looked better; he’s stepping into it with the same confidence he had earlier in the season. But he only shot 1-for-9 after the first quarter. I know that just having a few go through the hoop and getting up to double-digits can do a lot for a player’s confidence, and I hope that’s the case for TD; I also hope the Nets series is as much of a laugher as some predict so that he can get some serious run there too, and keep improving.
But for now, I imagine Nick Nurse still has Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Davis and probably Matt Thomas ahead of Davis in the rotation, and unless Davis can show something against the Nets, that’s the right call.
4. The Strong Hands of Marc Gasol
We often talk about Marc Gasol’s feet when we talk about his defense, and how he always seems to move — with surprising speed! — into the right spots at the right time. But we don’t talk about his hands as much, and they’re an important part of his defense too.
Players slap down at the ball all the time, especially when opposing players drive and are gathering the ball hip-high. But I’m not sure anyone does it with as much force as Gasol.
We certainly saw him flash those hands against Philadelphia, where he forced Joel Embiid into five turnovers, and slapped Embiid so hard he knocked Embiid out of the game. Last night, he did it to Nikola Jokic here, leading to a Terence Davis layup the other way:
And even when it doesn’t force a turnover, a Gasol slap can be enough to change a shot:
Gasol’s impact on the defensive end remains as impressive as ever.
5. The Broad Shoulders of Paul Watson
Paul Watson showed us a couple of flashes against Milwaukee and Philadelphia, but he took advantage of his career-high 28 minutes yesterday to really show some stuff. One of the things that has impressed me most about Watson is his size, especially his broad shoulders; he can use that size to generate space on drives, and he has the quickness to get right to the hoop.
Check out this drive:
Just a quick drop of the shoulder and boom, he’s at the rack.
Beyond that, how about the shot chart? This is an inside-outside game that would make the Houston Rockets proud:
Nick Nurse said post-game that Paul Watson has a future with the Raptors organization, and I look forward to seeing him develop further.
After three meaningless games, I for one am ready for the “real games” to begin. Bring on the Nets!