There are games where we have to look really hard for a narrative, and there are games where the narrative speak for itself. With the Orlando Magic in town to play the Toronto Raptors, at the very top of the agenda is the Scottie Barnes vs. Jalen Suggs head-to-head.
However, there are other things worth talking about, such as Toronto’s staunch defense that holds opponents to 99 points through five games. The Raptors are tied for fourth in the NBA in this category. When effective, the Raptors’ defense reminds me of the fast-moving zombies that can overwhelm their prey in a matter of seconds.
There’s also OG Anunoby’s resurgence, who now has scored at least 20 points in three consecutive games (23.3 points during this stretch). Could this be a Gary Trent Jr. effect to the starting lineup? Speaking of Trent, he’s been excellent on the defensive end. He’s finally on the same wavelength as the team when it comes to defensive aggression, pressure, deflections, and of course, going for the steal. But did you see him shake Myles Turner with fancy footwork the other night?
A win tonight would put the Raptors at .500 for the first time since February last year (sorry, the 1-1 record doesn’t count for me), when they dug deep from their horrible start to get back in the playoff picture (16-16). Unfortunately, COVID had other plans for those Raptors — but their reward was the opportunity to make the choice between Jalen Suggs and Scottie Barnes.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa
Orlando – Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter, Mo Bamba
Toronto – Pascal Siakam (shoulder – out), Yuta Watanabe (calf – out)
Orlando – Michael Carter-Williams (ankle – out), Markelle Fultz (knee – out), Jonathan Isaac (knee – out), E-Twaun Moore (knee – out), Chuma Okeke (hip – out)
Fred VanVleet, All-Defense
We all know Fred VanVleet’s very “handsy” defense — he’s got a knack for sticking his hand in the cookie jar and getting away with it. A bit part of it is anticipation and knowing the player’s tendencies. The other is just pure effort, he just wants the ball more. Then we have the legendary box-and-one, where he relentlessly chased Steph Curry throughout the Finals. But what’s underrated when it comes to VanVleet’s defense is his defensive IQ. Just look at this play, broken down perfectly by SportsNet’s William Lou.
End of the Dragon Era?
Goran Dragic earned his first DNP-CD with the Raptors against the Indiana Pacers, and from the looks of it, he may be out of the rotation. After the game, Nurse said that he hadn’t had a chance to speak with Dragic about the benching. However, Dalano Banton’s playing really well, and Dragic’s been struggling. The two-man platoon of Dragic-Svi (that combo is -4) hasn’t given the team the push they need, but in small sample size, the Banton/Chris Boucher combo’s wrecking havoc (+5.5). Now that the Raptors 905 have an assistant coach involved with the Slovenian National team, perhaps the Raptors can assign Dragic to Mississauga to get his mojo back?
Barnes vs Suggs
The early verdict is out through five games that Masai Ujiri and the Raptors’ scouting team got the 4th overall pick right in Scottie Barnes. Barnes had been a revelation for the Raptors so far. He was supposed to be this raw athletic specimen that would need time to develop his skills and be a contributor. However, Barnes is averaging 17 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while effectively playing the team’s secondary playmaker/backup point guard. Meanwhile, Jalen Suggs is actually having a decent start to his rookie campaign. He’s averaging 11.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. Sure, he’s had his struggles with his offense. Still, his production is not bad, considering he’s playing shooting guard alongside Cole Anthony.