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The Rap-Up: An important week of winnable games

This week’s games features Toronto’s first game against DeMar DeRozan without his BFF, Kyle Lowry. It also includes Round One of Suggs vs. Barnes.

Toronto Raptors v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

With the Toronto Raptors in the midst of finding their footing, they embark on a week that offers a solid opportunity to do so while also collecting a couple of wins.

Last week saw the team underachieve (Washington), overachieve (Boston), and perform as expected (Dallas).

If Toronto has any playoff aspirations, a week like this is exactly what’s needed to make that dream a reality. All four games are winnable. This is a scrappy Toronto bunch that leads the league in deflections, loose balls recovered, and offensive rebounding percentage. The offense is still struggling but the hustle stats are what this team prides itself on and use as a measuring stick against the league. For example, Khem Birch (3rd), Scottie Barnes (4th), and Precious Achiuwa (9th) are already in the top-10 in offensive rebounding percentage.

This week features games against former Raptors that were traded (Hello Mr. DeRozan), former Raptors that were waived (Hello Mr. Brissett), and Raptors that were never Raptors (Hello Mr. Suggs).

Let’s see if I can improve my predictions record from last week.

October 25 vs Chicago Bulls

Context matters.

The Bulls traded for Lonzo Ball and Raptors legend, DeMar DeRozan. They also signed Alex Caruso and Raptors 905 legend, Alize Johnson. Matt Thomas turned a training camp invite into a 1-year contract and a spot on the roster, which is no easy feat. Add in the trade deadline acquisition of Nikola Vucevic, the team’s All-Star, Zach LaVine, another high-flyer in Derrick Jones, and All-Rookie standout, Patrick Williams, you’re looking at one of the most League-Pass-worthy teams in the league.

However, re-read those names and construct a line-up that does NOT have at least two defensive sieves? Yes, this will be an exciting team to watch (would you not pay good money to watch DeMar, Zach, and Derrick in a practice court dunk contest?) but I struggle to find how they’re getting crunch time stops.

The Bulls visit Scotiabank Arena with a perfect 3-0 record that also requires a bit of context. Two victories over a lottery-bound Pistons team and a third over a Pelicans team without Zion Williamson is hardly anything to brag about.

Fun fact that may only interest me

For all the love being thrown at Dalano Banton and his incredible journey from Rexdale to the Raptors, check out Ayo Dosumnu’s story.

He was born in Chicago, was a 5-star recruit who, despite offers from other D-1 schools, chose to play at Illinois. He played on the U-19 USA team alongside future NBA players Cole Anthony and Tyrese Maxey, and helped them win Gold at the U-19 World Championships in 2018. He was a consensus first-team All-American and won the Bob Cousy Award as top point guard earlier this year. Dosunmu entered the draft and was chosen in the second round by his hometown Bulls!

Prediction

This will be the seventh meeting between the Raptors and DeRozan. The matchups have followed a pattern over the three seasons since he was traded: DeRozan’s team wins the first and the Raptors exact revenge in the rematch. While I do think that pattern continues, it’s not because of what’s been mentioned in the previous sections. With so many offensive weapons, it’s not a surprise the Bulls get to the line at a high frequency (#4 in FT rate). That’s one defensive area the Raptors struggled with last season (#30 in defensive FT rate) and haven’t improved much so far (#19). Weak competition (and my hesitations) aside, Chicago has stepped up on the defensive end, ranking in the top-5 in three of the four defensive Four Factors (eFG%: #5; Turnover %: #5; FT/FGA: #4). Chicago keeps the Raptors winless at home, topping the good guys, 105-101.

October 27 vs Indiana Pacers

If the prediction of the previous game is accurate, then this game against the Pacers could be just what the proverbial doctor ordered! The last time the Raptors won a home game in Toronto was February 23, 2020, against... the Pacers.

While that game seems like a lifetime ago, it’s encouraging that the cores of each team are generally the same: Indiana with Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner as starters; Toronto with Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby (and Pascal Siakam) as starters. That’s also uplifting because Toronto won that game by 46 points!

Sabonis and Turner present a bigger problem on paper than they do on the court. You’d figure a pair of big men with All-Star talent would give Toronto’s under-sized frontcourt a difficult time. Take a closer look and you’ll see why there’s the reason for optimism.

Turner only takes 42% of his shots at the rim (39th percentile among bigs), which works in Toronto’s favour with all of their defensive switching. Against Toronto, Turner has been held below his career scoring average (12.8) in 12 of his 17 career games.

Over his last two seasons — both as an All-Star — Sabonis has faced the Raptors seven times. In five of those games, he was held below his season average. The one time he scored more than 20, Toronto was in full-tank mode and only played 6(!) players.

Fun fact that may only interest me

The season is still young but with TJ Warren out for the season and Caris Levert’s health always in question, it’s not hard to see that Chris Duarte’s place in the starting rotation may be permanent. If he keeps his scoring average above 20, he’ll join Andrew Wiggins (x3), Jamal Murray, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as the only Canadians to do so. Duarte’s also in good shape to surpass Wiggins’ rookie record for most points per game by a Canadian (16.9).

Prediction

Guess who’s Bjork.....Bjork(a)gren! (Sorry, I’ll see myself out.)

Under new head coach Rick Carlisle, the Pacers have shifted their offense from shooting at the rim (#2 last season under Bjorkgren) to firing from beyond the arc (#8 this season). The Raptors will happily take that split as they rank #24 in opponents’ FG% at the rim and rank #5 in opponents’ 3-pt FG%.

The simple, but more important stat, is that Toronto has won the last 13* home games in this matchup. Toronto gets the W, defeating Indiana 108-98.

*Even if the Raptors beat the Pacers in Tampa (they didn’t), I would never count it as a home game.

October 29 vs Orlando Magic

Imagine you’re Jalen Suggs.

You played an integral part of Gonzaga’s near-perfect season (as a Freshman, no less), hitting a buzzer-beater in the Final Four to cement your name in March Madness lore. You carry over that momentum to a stacked draft class where mock drafts have you locked as a top-4 pick. Your peers, Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley get picked first. Next pick goes to a Raptors organization that’s known league-wide as one of the best player development programs.

“With the 4th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors select... Scottie Barnes from the university of Florida State.”

You are shocked! “I will say the ones that do pass up on me and take another prospect, you know, it’ll come back, it’d be to their detriment,” you say.

It’s now the sixth game of your young career and you’ve got your first chance to exact some revenge on a team that passed on you. The crowd at Scotiabank Arena is louder than you’ve ever experienced. As the game tips off, you’re guarded by Gary Trent Jr. The first time you touch the ball you look to swing. Nope. GTJ is tied for third in the NBA in deflections and adds to his total. Fastbreak. Easy bucket. Raptors grab an early lead.

The next time you get the ball you decide to take a more aggressive approach. You drive hard to your right then quickly spin to your left. Before you complete your spin, weakside help swoops in to steal the ball. It’s the NBA’s leader in deflections, Fred VanVleet.

Alright, let’s see if our teammates can help. You call for a screen from Franz Wagner and find yourself switching onto... Barnes! It’s a choose-your-own-adventure and none them end well.

Next time down you get a solid screen from Wendell Carter Jr. but now you’re face-to-face with OG Anunoby.

Damn, why didn’t anyone tell me this revenge thing would be so frustrating!

Fun fact that may only interest me

The Raptor was one of the 10 finalists to be inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame. Judging by how well Canadians turn out for All-Star game votes, it would be a shock if he doesn’t join Youppie as the only Canadian mascots to be inducted.

Also, if The Raptor is inducted, that leaves Orlando as the only team in this week’s schedule to not have a hall-of-fame mascot. Yes, Benny the Bull and Boomer (the Pacer?) are both in the Hall. And yes, this fun fact absolutely only interests me.

Prediction

Name the Magic’s starting five. Or better yet, name five players on the Magic roster, not including the two listed above. (Individuals who do not wish to be vaccinated are not considered members of the team. There. I said it.)

Toronto puts Orlando out of their misery early, winning 106-97.

October 30 @ Indiana Pacers

Both teams will be playing the second game of a back-to-back. While Toronto will be “recovering” from a feisty date with the Magic (chuckles under breath), the Pacers will return home immediately after a game against Brooklyn.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Last season, the Raptors were 3-13 in the second game of a back-to-back. Unsurprisingly, the worst record in the NBA. What was surprising was how steep the drop-off was for a Toronto team that had built a reputation of succeeding in such situations. Over the previous three seasons, the Raptors were 25-11 in SEGABABA — tops in the NBA.

Prediction

This week’s post is already 500 words longer than it should be and you already got an Indiana preview above. Toronto wraps up a successful week by beating the Pacers on their home floor, 107-106.

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Last Week: 0-3

Season Record for Predictions: 0-3