The 2020-2021 Toronto Raptors have been the picture-perfect definition of a roller coaster ride as they approach the quarter-mark of the season with a showdown looming against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Much like this Raptors season, roller coasters generally suck at first — you’re waiting for the safety instructions to be painstakingly glossed over about the metal contraption that is about to hurl you through the sky and you have a feeling that it’s quite possible that something might not be right. Once things get started, it’s a slow climb to peak height, and it’s in this moment that you feel a mix of “everything’s going to be okay” and “nothing could possibly ever be okay.” You creak to the first peak and there’s a fleeting moment of euphoria. There’s harmony and the world seems to be falling into place. Then, the next thing you know, your stomach is in your throat and you can’t make heads or tails of which way is up or down and all you want is for it to end, only for some odd reason, you feel like you should probably do it again as soon as it’s over.
Full disclosure, I hate roller coasters, so the above analogy might not be how everyone feels about them, but I’m going with it.
Let’s take the temperature.
OG Anunoby, Emphasis on the “3” in 3-and-D
Let this number one entry be an apology for not yet writing about how incredible OG has been this year. Yes, he started the season out shooting abysmally from three to the tune of 31 percent, but it was more than the percentages — OG looked uncomfortable shooting the ball. For whatever reason, it looked as if there was a slight hitch in OG’s shot as he had been relocated to to the wing shooter’s spot in the offense as opposed to his preferred corners.
Everything changed when the Raptors rolled into Portland, as Anunoby found himself in the corners more often. That relocation has been a big part OG’s boom over the last eight games where he’s shooting a red-hot 61 percent (!!!) from three — raising his season average to an extremely respectable 43 percent on nearly six attempts per game.
In the mix of those eight games, OG has raised his defensive game to Raptors’ fans expected level after a slow start to the season and is now second in the league in total steals and steals per game, narrowly trailing Larry Nance Jr. and ahead of some guy named Kawhi Leonard. Want a little icing on the cake? How about his performance in Toronto’s victory over Indiana on Sunday?
OG Anunoby today:— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 24, 2021
He joins Kawhi Leonard as the only players with multiple 30p/5r/5s games in Raptors franchise history. pic.twitter.com/4CTs3jAiak
It will be interesting to see what comes next for Anunoby, who took a step back in the final game against the Pacers. The return of Kyle Lowry and the lowest minutes he’s played thus far this season could be a contributing factor, but if the Raptors can play the way they did in their win against the Pacers — a game that saw OG log his highest usage percentage of the season — then perhaps it might be time for Nick Nurse to tinker with his offense.
Yeah that’s cool pic.twitter.com/Q1QJN4QoJb— Josh Kern (@joshuakern) January 23, 2021
The Raptors without Kyle Lowry, Perfect
Sheeeeshhh this ball movement pic.twitter.com/SEU5tDRlrC— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 24, 2021
It’s very difficult to say what hurts more: having a toe infection, or that the Raptors have been better without Kyle Lowry on the floor. Yes, Lowry has contributed considerably to four of the Raptors seven wins this year, but being 3-0 without him causes a slight bit of pause.
This section is in no way suggesting anything dramatic be done, but merely recognizing that the Raptors have been balling in Lowry’s absence. While they certainly miss his steady hand when the game is sputtering out of control — as it is wont to do when Nick Nurse is forced to roll with some of his more creative lineups he’s had to try in the face of injuries — Toronto seems to be playing more freely without their leader on the floor.
Without the structure that Lowry brings on a nightly basis, the door is open for other contributors to shine. Whether it’s OG’s usage or Stanley Johnson’s increased playmaking role, there is room for optimism without Kyle.
Kyle Lowry, Toe or More?
As mentioned above, Lowry has not been playing to his best abilities. He missed Sunday’s game against the Pacers with a toe infection and returned for Monday’s game not quite looking himself. With Kyle bookending his week with his two worst games of the season — Lowry shot 17 percent in a loss to the Heat on Thursday and 18 percent in a loss to the Pacers on Monday — it’s fair to wonder what it all means for Toronto.
Are the Raptors a better team without Lowry on the floor? Absolutely not. Is Lowry starting to slow down? Hmm, possibly? Should Nurse look to adjust his offense to ease Lowry’s burden because he’s nearly 35 years old and is tenth in the league in minutes played? There might be something to that!
Raptors’ Meltdowns, No Longer Exclusive to 4th Quarters
Remember that roller coaster analogy at the top of this piece? Throw it away — roller coasters are dumb anyway.
What really typifies this Raptors’ season is prolonged periods of drought. In the four games the Raptors played this week, they had the following bouts of ineptitude on the offensive end:
- 4 minutes and 42 seconds in the 3rd quarter and 6 minutes and 15 seconds in the fourth quarter without a field goal in game one against the Heat.
- 4 minutes and 39 seconds in the 3rd quarter without a field goal in game two against the Heat
- 3 minutes and 5 seconds and 4 minutes and 7 seconds in the fourth quarter without a field goal in the final game against the Pacers.
That’s nearly two quarters of basketball without a field goal in five sequences over three games. Moreover, in that final game against the Pacers, the Raptors went a combined seven minutes and 12 seconds in the fourth quarter without a field goal. That’s more than half the quarter!
Well, it’s time to pick that original analogy back up, because if the Raptors can’t figure out how to bust out of these, at this point, commonplace, scoreless codas, then Raptors’ fans can expect this roller coaster ride of a season to continue.