I have a bad feeling that Saturday night’s game between the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics will end up being the highlight of the preseason — meaning tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets and tomorrow’s against the Washington Wizards will be the typical preseason slogs that can’t end soon enough.
Even though it’s only been a week and three games, the preseason already feels like it’s been going on forever; I swear Media Day was two months ago.
That said, there’s still a lot to learn about this Raptors team, including who’ll ultimately start at the centre position and the second guard spot. Let’s see if Khem Birch gets into the action tonight, and whether or not Gary Trent Jr. can get into the flow of the offense.
Where to Watch:
TSN4, 7:00 p.m. EST
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Goran Dragic, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa
Houston — Danuel House Jr., Christian Wood, Daniel Theis, Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr.
Toronto — Chris Boucher (dislocated finger — out); Pascal Siakam (shoulder surgery — out)
Houston — John Wall (not with team — out); Jae’Sean Tate (back — probable); Eric Gordon (ankle — doubtful)
Birch back (?)
Raptors centre Khem Birch cleared the league’s health and safety protocols on Sunday, meaning that, provided his conditioning is on point, he should be available for today’s game. Birch hasn’t been able to practice with his teammates in more than a week, so he might be behind the curve — but that makes getting him some preseason reps even more important.
That said, Precious Achiuwa has played well as Toronto’s starting centre. I presumed heading into the season that Birch, based on his play last season, was a lock for the starting C. But Achiuwa, while a traditional pivot like Birch, has really impressed with his ability to snatch a rebound off the glass and take it the other way himself — something Birch doesn’t really have in his game. and that may be the way Nick Nurse is leaning when it comes to this team; after all, given their lack of offensive punch in the halfcourt, the more (and more effectively) they can run, the better off the offense will be.
The other Jalen (the Green one)
Heading into the 2021 NBA draft, there were two Jalens that seemed to be sure-thing top-four picks: Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs. The Rockets stuck to the script, taking Green with the #2 pick, and then the Raptors threw the script out the window and took Scottie Barnes at #4.
We’ll have to wait until October 29 to see Suggs and the Orlando Magic in action, but we’ll get our first look at Green tonight. With his Lucas Nogueira-esque hair, it might be easy to underestimate Green. But the 6’6” shooting guard, who scored 18 points a game on 46% shooting for the G-League Ignite select team last season, can score the heck out of the ball.
Although Green has struggled from the floor in his preseason games (10-of-29 from the field), he’s still scoring at a decent clip for a rookie (16 points per game). The Raptors’ length, plus the stout perimeter defense of Fred VanVleet and Goran Dragic, should provide a tough challenge for Green tonight.
The Raptors’ centre spot isn’t the only position whose rotation remains somewhat muddy at this point in the season. Fred VanVleet is obviously cemented as the lead guard, but it’s not clear if Goran Dragic is the ideal starting backcourt mate. The Raptors have certainly had success starting two point guards the last two seasons, but Dragic isn’t really part of this team’s future, and besides, he’s shown to be effective in a sixth man role in the past couple of seasons with the Miami Heat.
Gary Trent Jr., meanwhile, might be the Raptors’ preferred choice at the two-guard. he’s a pure scorer who will benefit the most from playing alongside VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and (eventually) Pascal Siakam.
Then there’s the backup rotation. Regardless of whether Trent or Dragic starts, the other will get a heavy dose of bench minutes. Malachi Flynn is in the mix, but hasn’t particularly impressed in the preseason. Dalano Banton certainly has, but I’m not sure his open-court, herky-jerky style will translate effectively once the real games start. Somebody is gonna be left out of the mix, and these next two games will probably provide a pretty good idea of who.