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The Rap-Up: Quarter Season Awards

The Raptors are back home for 10 of 13 games in December. Before looking ahead, let’s hand out some fake awards from the first quarter of the season.

Toronto Raptors take on the Indiana Pacers Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

It’s hard to believe we’re at the quarter mark of the regular season.

Part of that disbelief lies in how the Raptors have looked at times — both really good and really bad. Victories over Boston and Philadelphia look good in hindsight, but the Debbie Downer in me can’t help but point out they came against a Celtics team that hadn’t figured it out yet (and has won two subsequent meetings), and a Sixers team without Joel Embiid.

Another part of the disbelief comes from the progress from various key members. Fred VanVleet has embraced the Kyle Lowry role as the vocal leader off-court and lead-by-example floor general on the court. OG Anunoby, pre-hip injury, looked every bit ready to take over the #1 scoring role. Gary Trent Jr. has got to be in the Most Improved Player discussion with the leap he’s made on the defensive end (tied for 1st in deflections per game; tied for 3rd in steals per game). There’s a lot to like from this squad, so let’s hand out some fake awards!

Most likely to get league recognition (in-season): Fred VanVleet

Toronto’s record may be a deterrent, but there’s no arguing FVV’s All-Star resume thus far. Looking only at East players, he’s among the conference leaders in assists (#6), steals (#8), threes made (tied for #2), and VORP (#9).

Most likely to get league recognition (post-season): Scottie Barnes

Barnes leads all rookies in scoring (15.2), rebounding (8.3), and general good vibes. At the very least, he’ll end up First Team All-Rookie. With the injury bug already plaguing Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, and Jalen Suggs, the Rookie of the Year award is Barnes’ to lose.

Most likely to score 50 in a game this season: Gary Trent Jr.

When GTJ scored a career-high 44 points in his ninth game as a Raptor, it felt like a prelude to bigger things. Putting aside his eye-popping turnaround at the defensive end, he’s quietly become Toronto’s most consistent form of offense. Trent entered the season shooting 77.8% from the charity stripe. He currently sits 2nd in the NBA with a 92.9%. He’s scored in double figures in 18 of 20 games and nailed at least two triples in 16 games. With the team already running through its fair share of injuries (GTJ included), he could find himself in a situation where he is the go-to scoring option.

Most likely to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater: Pascal Siakam

Is this wishful thinking? Maybe. This one’s based on gut feeling with a sprinkle of serendipitous hope. Just two seasons ago, Siakam was 6th in the NBA in FG% in the clutch. Since returning from shoulder surgery, his shooting splits are identical to his All-NBA season and his 3-point stroke has looked smoother. Spicy P also wins the award for Most Likely to Silence the Doubters.

On to this week’s picks!

November 30 vs Memphis Grizzlies

I don’t particularly like playing the “(insert player) was drafted over (insert better player)” game, especially with a Raptors front office that’s proven they know a heck of a lot more than us armchair GMs.

Totally unrelated: Malachi Flynn was drafted one spot before Desmond Bane

Fun fact that may only interest me

Ja Morant has already accomplished a lot in his young career. He won Rookie of the Year two season ago. He led the Grizzlies to an improbable spot in the playoffs last season, including do-or-die victories over the more experienced Spurs and Warriors (who were fielding a roster similar to the current squad that’s tearing up the league). This year, his numbers are up across the board and he’s well on his way to his first All-Star game appearance.

Yet, this is also a fact.

Prediction

I’ll admit that I thought last week’s date with the Grizzlies would be the catalyst for a turnaround. Subsequent losses to Indiana and Boston proved otherwise. Maybe I was a week early on the prediction. OG Anunoby and Khem Birch will miss this game just as they missed last week’s meeting too. Gary Trent Jr’s questionable tag does draw a raised eyebrow, but not nearly to the effect that Morant’s absence will affect Memphis. The Raptors sweep the season series with the Grizzlies, winning 110-102.

December 2 vs Milwaukee Bucks

After years of not-so-subtly showing his desire to play in Toronto, Demarcus Cousins continues his personal revenge tour by joining yet another Raptors rival, after going ring-chasing with the Warriors in 2018-19 (LOL) and the Clippers (LOL) last season. Cousins’ addition also allows me the excuse of bringing up the championship season because the last time Boogie played at Scotiabank Arena was Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

Speaking of the 2018-19 season, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won his first of two MVPs, averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks. This season he’s averaging 27.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.8 blocks. Steph Curry is averaging one more point and one more assist than Antetokounmpo but getting a far better contribution from his teammates and, as a result, the Warriors have an eye-catching 18-2 record. According to Basketball Reference’s MVP Tracker, Curry is 6 times more likely to beat Antetokounmpo to his 3rd MVP. With 2 of the last 3 MVPs, it sure seems like Giannis has entered the Lebron James zone of losing votes because voters are desensitized by his consistent greatness.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Milwaukee’s 3rd leading scorer is NOT Jrue Holiday. Milwaukee’s 2nd leading rebounder is NOT Brook Lopez (he’s been out for all but one game this season). Milwaukee’s best 3-point shooter (by 3-point FG%) is NOT Khris Middleton.

The answer to all of these statements is Bobby Portis.

Bonus answer: Milwaukee’s most annoying player will never be Portis or any other Buck, as long as Grayson Allen is on the team.

Prediction

Milwaukee visits Toronto less than 24 hours after a home date with the Hornets. This is also smack dab in the middle of a 3-games-in-4-nights affair with the Miami Heat awaiting the Bucks. There could be some minutes restrictions for our pal, Mike Budenholzer. Milwaukee’s had the best efficiency differential (points differential per 100 possessions) over the last 2 weeks — which says a lot, considering Phoenix and Golden State have also not lost — but their 7 wins have been against a Lebron-less Lakers, a Jokic-less Nuggets, the Thunder, Pistons, Pacers, and Magic (x2). You know I’m dying to call for the upset, but I simply can’t pull the trigger. Milwaukee ranks 4th in three-pointers taken and 3rd in makes, while the Raptors rank 26th in opponents’ 3-point FG%. The aforementioned “most annoying player” on the Bucks is primed to embrace the Raptor Killer persona. The Bucks defeat the Raptors, 120-108.

December 5 vs Washington Wizards

Washington comes to town as one of the early season surprises. Russell Westbrook may have played a huge part in Washington’s post All-Star break surge to the playoffs last season, but it’s his departure that’s really catapulted the Wizards.

Westbrook’s trade brought back a number of contributors to Washington. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who leads the team in steals, and Kyle Kuzma, who leads the team in defensive win shares, have helped boost Washington’s defense from 13th in opponents eFG% last season to 1st this season. Montrezl Harrell... well, let’s get to him further down.

Head coach Wes Unseld Jr., recently stated that he’s been happy with the types of shots his offense is creating, but it’s the shot-making that’s preventing the Wizards from having an above-average offense (19th in offensive rating and 28th in 3-point FG%). A date with the Raptors, who rank 26th in points allowed per possession and 28th in opponents’ FG%, could be what ails the Wizards’ offense.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Montrezl Harrell is tied for the league lead in Offensive Win Shares.

Suffice to say, that’s never happened in league history where a player has finished with the highest Offensive Win Shares while primarily coming off the bench.

Prediction

I had a different stat originally in the “fun fact” section that I’m placing here instead because it should definitely interest more than me. The Toronto Raptors have never lost two home games to the Washington Wizards in the same season. This prediction does not need any further analysis. Raptors beat the Wizards, 113-107.

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Last Week: 1-2

Season Record for Predictions: 10-11