Toronto’s slow start through 11 games is cause for concern. While the considerable drop-off of talent at centre is glaringly obvious, another big concern is the team’s inability to play complete games. Routinely this season Toronto has built and lost double-digit leads that past iterations of the team would have maintained or extended. The roster is guard heavy, and with the minutes Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry play — both of whom are undersized for their positions — it’s difficult to give meaningful minutes to anyone who isn’t a forward.
I floated the idea of the Yuta/Stanley dynamic resembling some of Pascal/OG on defense with one being burly, another being lanky, and both being able to switch.— William Lou (@william_lou) January 15, 2021
Nick's response: "I thought you were gonna say it was Jordan and Pippen." pic.twitter.com/Qh4QcJGirK
Yuta Watanabe and Stanley Johnson have been playing well in spurts, but more consistency is needed if Toronto wants to play well for 48 minutes. After an incredible second quarter against the Hornets on Thursday in which the team scored 36 points buoyed by the solid play from the second unit, they followed it up with a 12-point fourth quarter against a team playing a back-to-back missing their best player. Barring a trade that balances the roster, the Raptors will need to work through it and hope for continued internal development from Watanabe and Johnson.
In this early part of the season, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Lowry, VanVleet, Chris Boucher, and Norman Powell are the only ones who have seen guaranteed minutes. For Nick Nurse and his staff, if only five players (six, if you count Powell) are consistent contributors, the team will have problems keeping and extending leads. Toronto’s regular season success in the Lowry Era has been built off a positive bench and it’s depth. This season, the bench has been largely a negative all around.
Tonight, once again, the Raptors try to win two games in a row for the first time this season. And again, Gordon Hayward is questionable for the game. It’s a great opportunity for Toronto and one they can absolutely take. Here are tonight’s details:
Where to Watch:
TSN4, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Charlotte – Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Caleb Martin, PJ Washington, Bismack Biyombo
Toronto – Alex Len (personal reasons – OUT), Patrick McCaw (knee – OUT)
Charlotte – Gordon Hayward (hip – questionable), Cody Zeller (hand – OUT), Grant Riller (knee – OUT)
The Baynes and Boucher Problem
Chris Boucher and Aron Baynes’ seasons have been surprising, but for different reasons. When Baynes signed with Toronto in the offseason, he was a stop-gap measure for this season to keep flexibility for next offseason. However, Baynes has been nearly unplayable so far. Boucher on the other hand has surpassed nearly every expectation with his early play.
The debate on who should start should not reallly be a debate if we look at relative production. Boucher is playing like the starter and Baynes like the reserve. Yet, with how ineffective the second unit has been this season, would it be a good idea to take Boucher out of that lineup? The Kyle Lowry-and-the-bench lineup has not been as effective as years past and taking Boucher out could make it disastrous. We’ve already seen in the past few games that Boucher starts the second half and is in the closing lineup in the fourth. Regardless, Nurse has decisions to make on how to maximize the squad.
The LaMelo Effect
In just 13 games this season, LaMelo Ball’s play has pushed Charlotte into a League Pass favourite. His 22 point, 12 rebound, and 11 assist performance against Atlanta made him the youngest player in NBA history to post a triple double. The 19-year-old rookie has showcased his incredible playmaking and vision and is a early front-runner for Rookie of The Year honors.
Good manipulation by LaMelo Ball to look off Stanley Johnson on this roll by PJ Washington. Ball makes the pass to Bridges in the short-corner, who then whips it to PJ. for the foul. pic.twitter.com/b4KOuceKEQ— Richie (@RichieRandall) January 15, 2021
Ball’s Thursday night performance showed flashes of the type of player he could become for the Hornets. In the fourth quarter he made some great reads attacking the basket. He found Miles Bridges twice wide open for three (one which Bridges made) and once on a baseline cut to the basket which Bridges finished with authority over Chris Boucher. Ball and Bridges have built some chemistry this season. Look for more of the same tonight.
Pascal Siakam has brought a new element into his game this year. In 11 games, Pascal Siakam has more double digit assist games this season than he had all last season. He’s learned how to navigate double teams, often taking his time to read the defense and make the correct decision. He notched his first triple double of his career in a loss against Portland while nearly notching it earlier in the trip against Sacramento. His progression of this element in his game has been just fascinating to watch.
Siakam sets a pindown for FVV here, Hood catches him on the curl and Lillard with a late switch to Siakam. Raptors re-set and Siakam goes straight to the post again. Patient, takes his time and instead of spinning takes middle with no help and finishes. Reading the D tonight. pic.twitter.com/RCxWR3el60— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) January 12, 2021
Siakam’s early season struggles had a lot to do with his aggression, or lack thereof, when attacking the rim. He’s still learning and developing his game to become a better first option. Siakam’s play during the west coast road trip was promising partly because of how we saw the development of his passing. When he understands how to balance being aggressive and letting the game come to him, the league better watch out.