Despite the absence of their best player in Pascal Siakam, the Raptors have now won four in a row. Most impressively, they defeated the New York Knicks at MSG on Monday, missing not only Siakam and a rotation player in Yuta Watanabe, but also the very quickly important presence of Scottie Barnes.
While the Siakam-less Raptors are not exactly a reliable team for producing halfcourt offense, Nick Nurse has carved out a pretty consistent rotation that’s shown a considerable amount of promise compared to last year’s, shall we say, underwhelming, bench unit.
Rexdale’s own Dalano Banton might already be ready for a reserve role in the NBA — he’s certainly one of the most exciting players to watch on the team, injecting a shot of adrenaline into whatever lineup he’s inserted into. Meanwhile, Khem Birch has been beautifully steady off the bench, while Svi Mykhailiuk is showing some fun offensive pop. With Goran Dragic out of the rotation, ballhandling duties beyond VanVleet have been shared by largely inexperienced players — but the team’s aggressive defence and up-tempo attack have given this team an identity that is both competitive and enjoyable to watch. So long, Tampa!
Tonight, the Raptors look to make up for their deflating loss to Washington on October 20. The Wizards currently sit at 5-2 and have legitimate depth, as well as a star scorer in Bradley Beal. Down Siakam, Barnes, and Watanabe, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet will have to lead the way for the Raptors to build on their winning streak.
Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
TSN1/4, 7:00 PM EST
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Svi Mykhailiuk, OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa
Washington – Spencer Dinwiddie, Bradley Beal, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Daniel Gafford
Toronto – Scottie Barnes (thumb – out), Pascal Siakam (shoulder – out), Yuta Watanabe (calf – out)
Washington – Davis Bertans (ankle – questionable), Anthony Gill (calf – questionable), Rui Hachimura (personal – out), Thomas Bryant (knee – out), Cassius Winston (hamstring – out)
OG Anunoby’s Breakout
OG Anunoby got off to a rough start offensively this season, scoring 11 points on 3-of-17 shooting vs the Wizards, followed by a 4-of-17 shooting night vs Boston. But with more reps, he’s looked increasingly comfortable and patient in his elevated role. “I was rushing things. I wasn’t reading the defense,” said Anunoby of his early-season performances. “So just been trying to adjust and learn. I think I’m gonna keep learning as the year goes on and get better and better.”
Over the last six games, Anunoby is averaging 25 points per game on 45% FG, culminating in a career-high 36 points versus the Knicks. For the shorthanded Raptors to win their rematch with the Wizards, a key factor will be Anunoby’s assertiveness on offence — and there’s no doubt that he’s capable of leading the team to a win.
Best Big = Birch
Precious Achiuwa has been Nick Nurse’s choice as the Raptors’ starting big so far this season. And while Achiuwa has put up some good rebounding numbers and shown an ability to push in transition, the balance of minutes has shifted in favour of the far steadier Khem Birch.
Birch, who started the second half of last game and played 31 minutes to Achiuwa’s 16, has been productive in his role as a big who sets screens, fights for offensive rebounds, and basically does the in-between stuff to create as many advantages as possible. On the other hand, Achiuwa has been guilty of trying to do too much, leading to some bad shot attempts, rushed layups, and poor defensive positioning. It’s early in the season and Achiuwa has plenty of time to develop, but for now, even if Birch doesn’t get the start, we should see him continue getting the bulk of the minutes at centre.
In “defense” of Gary Trent
Entering the season, there was some concern among fans regarding Gary Trent Jr. Some of that was related to his lack of interior scoring (he’s taken six shots at the rim this season), but mainly, it centred on his defence. Now, eight games in, Gary Trent Jr. leads the league in total steals. Against the Knicks, Trent created eight deflections; New York had 10 as a team.
gary trent jr. created 8 deflections tonight. the knicks as a team had 10. gary added 4 steals and continues to lead the league.— William Lou (@william_lou) November 2, 2021
While Trent has been a dangerous shooter for some time now, seeing him embrace his role as a disruptive defender has been a promising addition to his game. With Trent stepping up his defense, the Raptors are looking quite short on weak links for opponents to pick on.