Sooooooooooo, as it turns out, it’s pretty tough to win games in the NBA when you’re missing 60% of your starting lineup! With OG Anunoby and Khem Birch sitting out the last four games and Gary Trent Jr. missing two, the Raptors continued their slide down the Eastern Conference standings with a 1-3 week against the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and bookended games against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Starting out the week with a win against Memphis in the return of sweet prince Yuta Watanabe was a welcome sign, but the wheels fell all the way off for Toronto as they are now riding a three game losing streak heading into a game against the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Let’s take the Temperature, I guess.
Yuta Watanabe, Triumphant Return
In order for Nick Nurse’s defensive schemes to work at a high level, players need to buy into the fact that they are going to work their asses off every single defensive-minute they’re on the floor. By work their assess off, we’re talking about sprinting on X-outs, constant switching and aggressive trapping and doubling to name a few factors. Some players take that expectation a little more seriously than others. Then there’s Yuta Watanabe.
This photo is too perfect… pic.twitter.com/p5ApCsj9QZ— ラプターズ情報局:Raptors Info Japan (@RaptorsInfoJPN) November 25, 2021
With Yuta’s return, Nurse has a player on the defensive end that he never has to worry about when it comes to effort, as you can clearly see in the tweets above. Now, Watanabe is getting the opportunity to prove his offseason mentality — which I wrote about here, in his Player Review — of being aggressive and shooting the ball when he has a window to do so.
Since returning, Watanabe has been on a minutes-restriction — up until last night’s loss against the Grizzlies where he ran out for 28 minutes — and is still managing to put up 4.3 3-pointers per game, which is a drastic increase on his previous season average of 1.8.
Fred VanVleet, Doing Everything He Can
Another week goes by where Fred VanVleet continues to lead the NBA in minutes per game. Fred, very much to his credit, is doing everything that he can with those minutes.
Fred VanVleet is now ranked as the 4th most impactful player this season in FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR, behind only Steph, Giannis, and Jokic— Louis Zatzman (@LouisZatzman) November 29, 2021
Unfortunately, the game disintegrates for the Raptors whenever Kyle, excuse me, Fred hits the bench. While there are myriad factors as to why this happens, one of the biggest is VanVleet’s shot making and creating ability. Fred shot 41% from 3-point range over the four game stretch. The Raptors? Well, they fired away to the tune of a miserable 28% less VanVleet’s shots. Many things have got to give.
Who’s Somewhere in the Middle
Scottie Barnes, The Total Experience
There are a couple of things that encapsulate the Scottie Barnes experience. Pure joy. Unselfish play — sometimes to a fault, and finally, pizazz. That last one, of late, has put the dazzling rookie in some sticky situations.
A small compilation of Scottie Barnes looking back at the defence on the fast break.— Libaan Osman (@libaanstar1) December 1, 2021
He probably needs to stop, but I don’t want him to pic.twitter.com/bBOk6SVmYT
Scottie Barnes' staredown dunk didn't go as planned pic.twitter.com/lVbwkhzYP6— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) December 1, 2021
One would have to assume that the Raptors organization will start to clamp down on this bit of show-boatery now that it’s becoming a bit of a problem, but there was another play from this week that summed up Scottie’s occasional aloofness.
After a quick score in the 1st quarter against the Boston Celtics, Barnes inbounded the ball with a no-look, behind his back pass while his back was turned to the play. Naturally, it went right to a Celtic player, but thankfully, Scottie happens to be lightning quick off of his feet and was able to recover for the block. Nick Nurse promptly sent him right to the bench.
Oh, Barnes also averaged 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds and 3.25 assists and a tidy, expectation-bending 44% from 3-point range, so.. .can you be that mad?
Svi Mykhailiuk, For Three?
Here’s a guy who should be shooting like Scottie has the past week! Instead, Svi slots perfectly into that miserable three-point shooting percentage mentioned above. Mykhailiuk put up a ghastly 37% from the field and 24% from 3 over the last four games and it was coupled with a negative Box Plus-Minus in each of the game and — what is becoming routine — a smattering of botched fast-breaks. That’s a perfect base for losing-soup! Please come back soon, OG and Gary!
Chris Boucher, Fallen Out
And then there was Chris. Boucher, through a large chunk of the season has been the anti-Yuta Watanabe. Missing rotations. Over-correcting because of mistakes to compound the mistake he originally made and, ultimately, just missing a ton of shots.
An amazing stat from Boucher’s game last night in Memphis after sitting with a DNP-CD against Boston is that he played just shy of 7-minutes and had a 39% usage rate. THIRTY NINE PERCENT! The Raptors ended up going -8 in those 7-minutes and sputtered down the stretch to lose the game. Now, that’s not to say that everything within those minutes is directly Boucher’s shoulders, but Chris has only managed two positive plus/minus showings in his last nine games.