Well, it looks light it might just be one of those seasons, doesn’t it.
The Raptors’ current offensive execution looks like something from the pre-culture-reset Dwane Casey days, and they’re playing with about as much joy as the as they did in the Jay Triano days. It’s not fun!
1. Untenable Crunch Time Execution
The Raptors did a fantastic job getting back into the game after a disastrous 18 minutes after halftime, using a 14-2 run to take a 113-111 lead with 2:45 to go.
Then, after getting three defensive stops sandwiched around two offensive rebounds, they turned the ball over three straight times — one of them a shot clock violation on an egregiously awful offensive possession — and proceeded to foul the Pelicans on every possession on the other end.
(Seriously. The Pelicans attempted 28 free throws in the fourth quarter — one more than the Raptors attempted all game — and nine of their final 12 points came at the line.)
The Raptors played a decent defensive game in this one, but you’re not going to win close games if you end every defensive possession by giving up an offensive rebound or committing a foul — especially if you can’t even get a shot up the other way.
2. Pascal Siakam, Rushing It
Perhaps feeling that he’d let his teammates down by getting benched the other day, it looked like Pascal Siakam came out wanting to be a difference maker last night. But aside from one nice fadeaway in the paint, he appeared to be rushing things, rather than letting the game come to him. And whether he shot or passed the ball, Siakam just seemed uncertain and didn’t play with any force.
It was nowhere more notable than on the two early transition opportunities that found Siakam guarded by Lonzo Ball. Instead of going up strong, he attempted to force the ball to Aron Baynes, and turned it over both times.
A similar thing happened in the fourth quarter as well, with Siakam trying to kick the ball out to Kyle Lowry.
He’s now up to 14 turnovers on the year, against 17 assists.
Meanwhile he’s picking up fouls at a Jakob Poeltl-esque rate. He fouled out again last night, and now has 18 fouls on the season against only eight total foul shots.
This game — combined with the Raptors getting their first win without him — surely isn’t going to quiet the Siakam doubters. He desperately needs to string together a couple of solid games to get himself back on track.
3. Brandon Ingram is the Real Deal
I’ll admit I’m a longtime Brandon Ingram doubter. In his Los Angeles days he barely showed me anything that led me to think he’d live up to his #2 overall draft pick slot, or the “next Kevin Durant” billing.
The latter is still up in the air — but it doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous now. This dude is balling. And I don’t know if he’s taking some of last season’s “Pascal Siakam is a better player” chatter to heart but he’s eating the Raptors up. He’s averaging 27.5/8.5/7.5 on 50/50/75 shooting against Toronto in two wins this year. While he’s a couple notches below Siakam defensively, his offensive game is just much, much more well-rounded at this point, and when the Pelicans needed buckets down the stretch, he was their guy; Eric Bledsoe nailed the big three, but Ingram kept putting the D on its heels, hitting 7-of-8 free throws (and blocking a Norman Powell runner that led to the aforementioned shot clock violation).
The Pelicans did pretty OK in that Anthony Davis trade, eh?
4. Big and Long (Ahem)
After Zion Williamson obliterated the Raptors on the offensive glass for five minutes in the second quarter, Nick Nurse went to a big front court lineup of OG Anunoby, Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher (along with Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet) to close out the quarter. And it worked! By mixing in some zone, the Raptors were able to get more stops and rebounds and finally generate some transition offense, and in six minutes that group turned a three-point deficit into a five-point halftime lead — and that lead was 10 before a botched 2-for-1 allowed the Pelicans to close on a 5-0 run. The same group also held steady in the fourth for a two-minute stretch after Siakam fouled out.
It’s probably not a group suited to most matchups, but it was nice to see one of Nick Nurse’s many experiments paying off.
I have to say I’m thoroughly enjoying the Chris Boucher experience. He’s gone from chaos-bringing chucker to a guy with a really good instinct for the basket; yeah, he’s still got the catapult from range, but around the hoop, he’s got a nice soft touch for getting the ball up on the rim. (You know, if you can ignore the wide open layup he blew in the third quarter…)
5. Find Something to Hang Your Hat On
Last year’s Raptors team was good enough on offense, and sensational on defense.
This year’s team, so far, is pretty good on defense, but is just plain bad in just about every other aspect of the game. Their offense is just terrible, with no movement/creativity and no quality shot generation. They’re not shooting the three well, and their transition offense/fast break has also disappeared. They still take care of the ball fairly well, but they don’t rebound, and they don’t protect the rim.
Something’s gotta change. Either the defense has to get significantly better, or the team needs to step it up in another area.
One thing I think it’s time to see: Replace the Stanley Johnson and Terence Davis minutes with DeAndre’ Bembry and Matt Thomas. Johnson’s been OK defensively, but brings nothing on the other end; I’m certain Bembry can do better. And Davis looks completely lost out there. Even if Thomas isn’t a great defender — and I thought I saw real improvement in him earlier this season — Davis isn’t doing anything on that end, and the things Thomas brings to the offensive side, both with his own shooting and the way his gravity creates space for others… it seems like a no-brainer to me.
Of course, I don’t have a coach of the year award, so I probably shouldn’t be second-guessing Nick Nurse. But I just don’t see what he’s seeing in Johnson and Davis at this point.
Maybe a little revenge action against the Boston Celtics will jolt the Raptors out of their funk? That’s one the Raptors should have no trouble getting up for — especially Siakam, considering his subpar play last postseason.