The Toronto Raptors are off to a miserable start this season, with only one win in seven games. Another loss would bring the team to a record that hasn’t been seen in these parts since coach Jay Triano was dropping F-bombs and breaking clipboards on the sideline.
The Raptors might be coming off a loss, but there’s optimism they’re trending in the right direction. Pascal Siakam finally put together a performance — 32 points and nine rebounds against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday — that earned praise from coach Nick Nurse for the first time this season. OG Anunoby also had a bounce-back game against the Suns, in which he consistently found ways to contribute offensively outside of spotting up behind the arc. Toronto’s centre position is still a big problem to solve, but the team might be starting to figure out their bench rotation.
The Sacramento Kings are coming off a big win against the Chicago Bulls, snapping a three-game losing skid. It was their third crunch time win this season (in contrast, the Raptors have none), with a stellar performance from their rookie Tyrese Haliburton who stepped in for De’Aaron Fox, who left the game due to injury.
Fox remains questionable for this game with hamstring tightness, so there’s a chance that Cory Joseph or Haliburton might start for the Kings. Even without Fox, the Kings are still a bit of a tough matchup for the ailing Raptors, as their big men could pose a problem for Toronto’s less-than-mobile frontcourt. In this, Richaun Holmes is having a career year statistically, and Marvin Bagley III might have broken out of his funk as well.
All we can do now is prepare. Here are the details for tonight’s game and three things to keep an eye on.
Where to Watch
TSN, 10:00 PM ET
Toronto — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes
Sacramento — De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes, Marvin Bagley
Toronto — Patrick McCaw (out — knee)
Sacramento — De’Aaron Fox (questionable — hamstring), Jabari Parker (out — health protocol), DaQuan Jeffries (out — ankle)
Sinkhole at the Centre
Despite Siakam’s struggles and all the other issues plaguing the Raptors, they’ve still been in a position to win in most of their losses. But among those issues, the center position has been not just a problem, but an amplifier of sorts.
Alex Len can’t defend pick-and-rolls, and he’s too slow to recognize the right rotation, let alone sprint into it. He’s limited offensively, but he’s shown some promise with the corner three and getting a clean dump off at the dunker’s spot. He looks more of a project than a bench piece.
Boucher is a stat-filler and one of the bright spots for the Raptors this season. He’s a decent replacement-level player for Serge Ibaka’s pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop pet plays, but the Raptors are at a disadvantage on the boards if he’s playing centre for them. Worse, Nurse has to hide him against bigger top-tier bigs.
Baynes is a wreck; any Raptor possession involving him seems to result in a turnover or Baynes fumbling a shot. He’s too flat-footed for the Raptors’ defensive style, and he offers very little rim protection. Sadly, he’s tied with Kyle Lowry, Matt Thomas, and Malachi Flynn at zero blocks through seven games.
Collectively, the Raptors’ bigs have not lived up to the bare minimum expectations. There was an expected downgrade from Gasol/Ibaka to Baynes/Len/Boucher, but no one expected the Raptors playing four-on-five on both ends of the floor with Baynes and Len at the middle.
Elephant in the Room
In Nurse’s book Raptors Rapture, he talked about a toy elephant in his office. It symbolizes the “elephant in the room,” and he encourages the team to utilize it to address the issues and tackle them head-on. But what if coaching is one of the problems?
Perhaps it’s due to the short turnaround time, but the coaching staff still does not have a good feel of its roster. The appearances and benchings of Matt Thomas, Stanley Johnson, Terence Davis II, and Malachi Flynn have been confounding. It does not appear as though the staff has made any changes to the team’s offensive and defensive schemes to fit in their new bigs’ capabilities and shortcomings.
Meanwhile, the offense and rotations still lack the imagination to make things easier for their key players. Maybe we’re getting there, as we’re starting to see some improvements in other areas.
Real or Mirage?
Siakam’s Bubble struggles have carried over to this season, and it felt like he’s got the “yips.” However, something must have clicked for him late in the game against the Boston Celtics, and it was on full display against the Suns. Siakam was back to his old self, taking full advantage of his length, quickness, and spins around the basket despite the Suns throwing all sorts of bodies at him.
However, it might be too early to celebrate. Siakam still had a few drives — especially late in the fourth, where he did not take it strong to the rack and was looking for a bailout instead. Siakam also missed some clutch free throws that could have helped them stay in the game. Stylistically, this was also the first game where he saw this much spacing. Until recently, the opposing teams have shown length in the paint to make things difficult for Siakam and company. The Kings have a rotation of long, mobile big men, so it’ll be a good opportunity to see if Wednesday’s performance was a one-off, or the start of a turnaround, for Siakam.