It has been a strange season for the NBA. In the backdrop of a once in a lifetime pandemic, we’ve seen a shortened season, postponed games, and new health and safety protocols that completely decimate teams leading to said postponed games. There have also been broadcasting issues on both local and nationally televised games, and now the seats at the arenas, which were once filled with tens of thousands of rabid fans, are mostly empty and replaced with ads. And that’s just the off-court stuff.
Through a quarter of the season already and teams have yet to adjust. On the court, we’ve seen some incredible distance shooting. Last season, George Hill, the three-point field goal leader, shot 46 percent from three. This season, he wouldn’t crack the top 10. Today, Chris Boucher is currently 14th in 3PT%, shooting a shade under 45 percent. It would put him ahead of noted Miami Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson last season, good for fourth in the entire league. There were no 50 percent shooters from deep last season. Twenty games in, two players are still shooting over 50 percent from 3: Seth Curry and league-leader Wayne Ellington.
Wayne Ellington is shooting an NBA-best 53.2% from 3 on 10 attempts per 36 minutes and averaging 13.4 points on an NBA-best 75.3% TS— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) January 29, 2021
Shooting is the great equalizer, and with shooting like that, it’s no surprise teams are where they are. The New Orleans Pelicans are just three games under .500 and currently in 14th place in the West. The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, are 12th in the East but just five games behind the second place Brooklyn Nets. A quarter of the way through and there’s still parity in the league. Strange season indeed.
Tonight’s game between the Raptors and the Orlando Magic is just as unpredictable. After starting 6-2, Orlando has lost 10 of their last 12 games. They’re currently on a two-game losing skid after losing to the Kings and Clippers. However, there is no Marc Gasol on Toronto to stop Nikola Vucevic.
Here are the details for the game.
Where to Watch:
SportsNet, 7:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Orlando – Cole Anthony, Evan Fournier, James Ennis III, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic
Toronto – Norman Powell (quad – doubtful), OG Anunoby (calf – OUT), Patrick McCaw (knee – OUT)
Orlando – Michael Carter-Williams (foot – day-to-day), Chuma Okeke (knee – OUT), Markelle Fultz (knee – OUT), Jonathan Isaac (knee – OUT), Al Farouq Aminu (knee – OUT)
It’s been open season this year against the Raptor bigs, and Vucevic is ready for his turn. The 2019 All-Star has been playing spectacularly all season, and even better since Markelle Fultz’s season ending injury. He’s averaging career highs in points per game as well as field goal attempts. What’s most impressive is his three-point shooting. Vucevic is hitting 44.6 percent of his threes on just over six attempts per game. Vucevic has become one of the best catch-and-shoot bigs this season, averaging 12 points per game in those scenarios.
Nikola Vucevic is quietly having a record-breaking year in Orlando...— ProCity Hoops (@ProCityHoops) January 30, 2021
▫️23.0 PPG (career high)
▫️44.6% 3P (6.1 3PA)
With the departure of Gasol, Vucevic will be a problem all night for Toronto. He can stretch the floor when Aron Baynes is on the court and post up when the smaller Boucher is present. With the unfortunate long-term injuries to Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, Vucevic is the de-facto man on the Magic. He should have all the opportunity in the world tonight.
Baynes vs Boucher: The Sequel
Not too long ago, Baynes and Boucher were on opposite ends on the performance train. Baynes was disappointing early, racking up three consecutive DNP-CDs in the process. Boucher on the other hand, was setting the league on fire with his shot-blocking and shooting. However, things have changed pretty quickly and evened out. The debate for Boucher to start for Toronto has stalled.
Baynes has been playing admirably as of late, simply doing the things he’s expected to do. Setting screens, boxing out (and grabbing the rebound with two hands), and catching pocket passes from Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry. Baynes has been finishing at the rim with strength, going up with a couple of dunks in situations where he’d normally throw a floater up. Boucher has been playing with energy but has seemed to lose his shooting touch. He’s hit double digit scoring in two of his last six games, after six straight games of 15 points or more. Here’s to hoping Baynes keeps this up and Boucher gets it going again.
All-Star: A Good Idea?
The NBA is considering holding the NBA All-Star game in Atlanta this year, but is it a good idea? Chris Paul, the head of the National Basketball Players Association, wants to hold it and donate the proceeds to HBCUs and COVID-19 relief efforts. The original All-Star game in Indiana was cancelled this season and this new one could happen in March if it happens to go through.
Being the event that brings the best players from almost all 30 teams together, could this turn out to be a super-spreader event? News of Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler losing more than 12 lbs in his fight against COVID recently could scare teams from sending their best players to the event. There are a lot of questions and risks with holding the All-Star game this year but we should see how the NBA plans to hold it, if they decide to go through with it in the end.