I’m not a “moral victories” guy, but last night’s game — in which the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers defeated the even-more shorthanded Toronto Raptors — was entertaining as heck, and you had to appreciate the fight that Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher and the replacement Raps put up. A loss is a loss, but at least it was fun to watch!
Meanwhile, I’ve given up on the idea of making this column daily at this point, but when I have thoughts, I’ll share them… like now.
1. Last night the DJ (almost) saved our lives
So who else is impressed with DJ Wilson’s hustle and aggressiveness? He was effective on both sides of the ball last night, including setting screens and initiating DHOs on offense. Not bad for a guy who’s played just one game, hasn’t practiced with the team, and missed the entire first half!
Given his size and length Wilson does seem like a perfect fit for this Raptors team, and seems like a great fit for the patented “Raptors redraft” approach, where they take a former first round pick (Stanley Johnson, for example, or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) and see if the team’s development program can unlock that potential.
Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be room for Wilson on the roster; when things are “normalized” (ie the Raptors aren’t carrying four hardship players) the team has one open spot, but they’re keeping it open to avoid the luxury tax. Signing Wilson to an actual deal would put them over the tax line.
There are other roster moves they could make, of course, including trading or buying out Goran Dragic. But for now, don’t expect Wilson to stick around.
2. Another great Siakam game
Pascal Siakam played a gem of a game last night, made all the more impressive by the fact that he just cleared the health and safety protocols. Thankfully, he indicated after the game that the virus didn’t hit him nearly as badly as it did last year. (Vaccines work!) Still, 10 days off with no basketball action can definitely set the conditioning back!
I don’t think Siakam’s got enough time under his belt, or the Raptors enough attention paid to them, for Siakam to make the All-Star team this year, but I think it’s totally fair to call him a fringe candidate to make the team. He’s averaging 19.6 points, 7.5 boards (career high) and 3.9 assists. His three-point shooting remains in the toilet, but he’s shooting 53% on two-pointers, his highest percentage since 2018-19, and he’s taking fewer shots than the past two seasons as well. And he’s playing great all-around defense. There’s still lots of room for improvement of course, not just from downtown; I’d like to see him get to the line a little more for one thing, and the assist number could be higher — and hopefully will be, once the team is healthy and he’s passing to more reliable shooters.
Overall though, I can’t find any real reason to complain about Siakam’s game. I know the haters will never relent, but I for one love his game and the way he’s playing this season.
3. Transformative situation
Sometimes when a team goes through a rough patch, it can spiral and the team never recovers. (See: the 2020-21 Tampa Raptors.) But sometimes those hardships have the opposite effect and it brings everyone together, cements bonds, and the team goes on a run. (See: about 50% of the time when a coach gets fired midseason.)
Now, it’s way, way too early to suggest where this Raptors team is going to go, post-current-COVID outbreak. They don’t even have all their players back! But we can hope Siakam’s return last night was a leading indicator. They also have a good run of home games against tough opponents coming up, and that’s as good a time as any to “right the ship” and go on a run.
4. Boucher, back to his old self?
The other thing that can happen when guys are out of the lineup, is that other players find themselves within the opportunity now given to them. Chris Boucher, perhaps, is doing just that. Now we’ve all seen lot of good-then-bad-then-good play from Chris over the past couple of years, and there’s no real reason to suspect that will change. But, so far this season he’s been way more bad than good. If this stretch, where he’s been forced into extended minutes and into taking a bigger role on offense, can help flip that and he can bring more to the table than he takes away from here on out, that’s a huge bonus for this team.
On the other hand, Malachi Flynn has once again failed to take advantage of his opportunity. Which leads me to…
5. Point guard problems
Boy, does this team need another lead guard. Flynn is not ready, and it’s looking like he never will be. I love Dalano Banton, especially as a change-of-pace guard, but he needs more seasoning.
When Goran Dragic left the team last month, I was fine with it. He wasn’t playing, and wasn’t playing particularly well in his rare minutes, and the team seemed to be leaning into the young guys. But when I look at where the team is now, on the cusp of the playoff hunt, with so much uncertainty in the air… I don’t see an issue with thinking the Raptors could make it to the top six and avoid the play-in. And to make that kind of push, a steady, veteran backup PG is exactly what the team needs! (A centre would also help, alas.)
I know the ship has sailed with Dragic, but it’s a shame it didn’t work out.