It’s hard to go back to the way things were. The Raptors have been winners for the better part of a decade and, seemingly in the blink of an eye, they are scraping the bottom of the barrel in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Wizards. This is not how this season was supposed to go.
And yet, here it is, absolutely going this way. Is there a way out? Yes! Will it be easy? Probably not! Let’s dive in.
Fred VanVleet, Earning His Money
Fred VanVleet poured in a season-high 35 PTS, knocked down 6 3PT and dished 8 AST against the Celtics!#WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/ScSlYprraM— NBA Canada (@NBACanada) January 5, 2021
One surefire way out of the bottom is hoping that Fred VanVleet can continue his red-hot shooting. Over the last three games since the previous Temperature was taken, VanVleet is averaging 29 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists with an absurd 50/45/92 shooting slash.
While Fred is unlikely to keep this pace up, there is little reason to believe that those numbers aren’t somewhere in line with where he could finish the season as his shooting percentages have climbed with each year he has gained more minutes and responsibilities within the offense. Coach Nick Nurse is doing a much better job early on in this year with running VanVleet a little more off the ball and it is clearly doing wonders.
Kyle Lowry, Keeping Hope Alive
Kyle Lowry is doing absolutely everything he can do to lift up his struggling teammates. Whether it’s showing faith by passing up a wide open three pointer from the wing in order to allow Stanley Johnson to shoot one from the corner or through tough love, by barking in Aron Baynes’ ear when the big man in the middle fumbles a pick and roll pocket pass. Like Nurse, Kyle is searching for ways to keep hope alive for the struggling Raptors. Here’s Kyle even airing some things out in the media.
"I'm surprised. But I think we need to be tougher," Lowry said. "We need to get a little bit more grittier, a little bit more tougher, a little bit more nastier. ... We need to get a swag. ... Right now there's nothing to us."— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) January 5, 2021
It remains to be seen whether a mostly intact core of the Bubble-season-Raptors can remember or reform their identity, but Raptors fans can bet big on Kyle Lowry continuing to give it everything he’s got until he has no more left to give.
End of List Sadness
Unfortunately, those two guys up there is where the “Who’s Hot” list ends, and the sadness begins: the Raptors are 1-5 and their offense is either 29th or 30th ranked in too many categories to list; the defense looks sharp to start and slowly begins to crumble once the reserves start to check-in; Nurse continues to tinker to the point that Raptor’s Twitter has moved on from crucifying Pascal Siakam to calling for him to be fired; and most sad of all, there is still no contract extension to be found for Masai Ujiri or Bobby Webster. With the Raptors about to embark on another road trip, things could spiral even further.
Who Might Be Turning It Around
Pascal Siakam, Possibilities
Let’s get one thing out of the way. At the beginning of the week, Pascal Siakam was benched by the Toronto Raptors for disciplinary reasons when he fouled out vs. Philly and left the bench before the game was over. That was a bad look across a bunch of boards, but that’s not what this section is going to focus on. There’s one simple question that provides a hint of possibility that Pascal could be on track to turning things around, or, at the very least, starting to figure out where it has all gone wrong for him.
When was the last time you saw Pascal Siakam run in transition with confidence and finish the play?
January 5, 2021
Better yet, how about this question? When was the last time you saw Pascal Siakam dunk?
Pascal Siakam to all the trolls. #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/TQyrHW3wUS— (@DocNaismith) January 5, 2021
As writers, commentators and fans have long pointed out, Pascal has a propensity for trying to do too much. A lot of those moments have been chalked up to Nurse forcing Siakam into a role he might not have been comfortable with in order to get him some reps so he can become comfortable. Well, there might just be enough reps to realize that Siakam might not get to that point and the focus should be shifted to where he excels. Raptors fans would definitely rather see the Pascal above as opposed to, whatever this is.
I slept on it, I figured it out.— i. (@_nopename) January 5, 2021
The Raptors just showing the league what will happen if they ever make the team relocate.
Siakam just out their protecting the TORONTO Raptors by doing this in Tampa pic.twitter.com/QuJREg2gHE
Aron Baynes, Dreadful
Here are some things that are true about Aron Baynes and his current situation: he had COVID this summer; he had a career year last season with the Suns and he joined a Raptors team that plays a defensive system that relies heavily on their centre keeping everything together. Here are some other things that are true about Aron Baynes and his current situation: he has developed zero chemistry with Kyle Lowry in the pick-and-roll; he is shooting 10 percent worse than his career rate, and he looks absolutely lost on defense most of the time.
Baynes’ minutes have fluctuated throughout the season based on the matchup at hand for the Raptors, as he is playing well over 20 minutes a game against the behemoths and, as of late, under 15 minutes a game against bodies that can more easily be handled by Chris Boucher. Will Nurse continue with that trend, regardless of Baynes’ play, or will there be some shine coming for Alex Len who, at the very least, Nurse believes to have held serve on the defensive end?
Literally Everyone Else, Worse than Dreadful
Fred has been stellar and Kyle is doing what he can to lift every player’s individually sinking ship. Siakam seems to be trending towards at least figuring things out, but almost everyone else on the roster — save for Boucher who is at least blocking shots like a bat out of hell — is underperforming in extreme ways: OG, while in the top 10 in the league in a couple of defensive categories is shooting 25 percent from 3; Norm is 15 percent worse than his career average from the field while posting a -5.1 OBPM (his career average is -0.7), which would be hilarious if it weren’t so dire; Stanley Johnson, bless his heart on defense, is putting up an 81 ORtg, which, again, dire and hilarious.
Matt Thomas has lost Nick Nurse’s trust while DeAndre’ Bembry never really seemed to get an opportunity to earn it. Meanwhile, Malachi Flynn played some unproductive minutes which may spell the end of his opportunity for some time. So where do the Toronto Raptors go from here? Anybody? Please?