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The Rap-Up: Bring our boys home

The Raptors only have two games this week, or 1.5 games, depending on how you feel about the Thunder as a professional basketball team.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Toronto Raptors Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors continue their homestand this week with a pair of games against a handful of Canadians who may just want to stay north of the border.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort are the unfortunate casualties of Sam Presti’s poor roster construction and subsequent plan to tank (again). With the war chest of draft picks that Presti owns, I wonder if, given the choice, he would’ve trotted out a roster full of college players to ensure he lands Paolo Banchero or Chet Holmgren in June.

While Presti is intentionally running his own version of The Process, Leon Rose is unintentionally doing the same in New York (more on this below). Let’s not get it twisted: RJ Barrett’s in a better situation than SGA and Dort. He’s surrounded by better players, an accomplished coach, and plays for an organization that isn’t shy to spend the big bucks. However, Barrett’s numbers have headed in the wrong direction so far this season. While Julius Randle is the clear number-one option, thus loosening the burden on the Toronto-born Barrett, he still plays for a professional sports team in New York City. If his numbers continue declining, the infamous fans and NYC media will tear his ego to shreds.

As tempting as it is, I’m not going to turn this into a fake trade post. Although, with his affinity for draft picks, how could Presti turn down Goran Dragic + Chris Boucher + 2 first rounders for SGA? Didn’t he just trade for a past-his-prime veteran in Kemba Walker (more on him below)? Also, what’s stopping Leon Rose from accepting a Malachi Flynn + Yuta Watanabe + Precious Achiuwa + Nando de Colo package for Barrett and Mitchell Robinson? (Common sense, I know... but run with the joke please) Why should Rose put all his Lefty + Young Point Guard eggs in one basket when he can have them in two separate players? Aren’t Achiuwa and Robinson the same high-energy, rebounding machines, except Precious isn’t an expiring contract?

Damn, I did the fake trade thing again.

The previous paragraph may be wishful thinking, but you’d better believe those Canadians would love to find their way to eventually donning a Raptors jersey.

Alright, that’s enough propaganda for today. On to this week’s picks!

December 8 vs Oklahoma City Thunder

Three-game road trips don’t usually feel as long as this trip the Thunder are currently on. When you kick off a road trip with a 73-point loss, home probably feels like it’s on another planet.

What does Head Coach Mark Daigneault, say in the locker room after a loss like that? Daigneault is only six years older than one of the reserves (Mike Muscala) he fed to the wolves Grizzlies. How much respect does he actually command?

Let’s say a team was unconscionably hot from outside, draining one three-pointer in each minute of play. Let’s also say they hold their opponent to one three-pointer for every two minutes played. The final score would be 144-72. Doesn’t that look unbelievable and not in the realm of possibility for a final score of a game played by the best basketball players in the world? How is the real-life score of 152-79 any different? I’m all for giving new coaches some runway to get acclimated to coaching at the highest level of basketball. But Daigneault is 36 years old, had one season as an Assistant Coach, and is now 28-66 over his first 1+ season as a Head Coach. You don’t fire a coach after one historically bad game, but 94 games into his tenure, how is Daigneault still employed? What message is Presti sending his team by keeping him around?

Back to the theme of this week’s post: please somebody save SGA from this moribund franchise. Even if it isn’t Toronto, Shai should not waste another minute of his All-Star talent in Oklahoma City.

Fun fact that may only interest me

In 96 quarters played this season, the worst quarter, by point differential, for the Raptors was an 18-point disadvantage (35-17 in the 3rd quarter) against the Nets on November 7.

In last Thursday’s record-setting loss to the Grizzlies, the Thunder lost each quarter by an AVERAGE of 18.25 points.

Prediction

If the Raptors don’t win, I’ll eat my shoe. (It’s not actually a shoe, it’s a TimBieb. Same difference.) The Thunder rank 29th in points per possession and eFG%. For a Raptors team that, according to Chris Boucher, has done nothing but work on defense in practice, that’s music to their collective ears. Toronto keeps their 4th consecutive opponent under 100 points, beating Oklahoma City, 105-92.

December 10 vs New York Knicks

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

The Knicks started the season very well with six wins in the first nine games, including an early statement victory over the Celtics. However, they’ve since fallen on hard times, dropping just below .500 with an average offense and below-average defense.

Sounds a bit like the Raptors, no?

Yet, both teams now appear to be headed in opposite directions. While New York has lost its last three games in a row, allowing opponents to score at least 112 in each game, Toronto has started to right the ship. The Raptors have won two games in a row for the first time since their five-game winning streak from October 27th to November 3rd, and more importantly, have not allowed any of their last three opponents to score 100.

You could point fingers at several areas but, as I alluded to earlier, the off-season moves need to shoulder some of the blame. The Knicks were one of the nice surprise stories of last season. With money to spend in free agency and an exciting duo of Randle + Barrett to build around, Rose ultimately landed Boston’s leftovers in Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. Kemba is discussed in the next section. Fournier is really living up to the “Don’t Google” nickname. He’s averaging below his career averages in FG%, points, FT%, and assists, and has lower VORP and Win Share totals than every starter other than **gulp** Barrett.

New York’s core (anyone averaging 20 minutes or more) consists of Barrett, Randle (whose numbers are also down across the board), Fournier/Walker/Derrick Rose (all negative assets), Alec Burks (who is who he is at 30 years of age), and Mitchell Robinson/Nerlens Noel/Immanuel Quickley (all with varying degrees of upside, but none averaging more than 10 points per game).

Bing Bong may just be the sound of the grandfather clock because time is already running out on this version of the Knicks.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Kemba Walker’s homecoming to New York hasn’t exactly played out as he planned. He’s averaging career lows across the board — points, rebounds, assists, usage %, VORP — and has been supplanted by Alec Burks.

I will say, there is something poetic about Burks passing Walker on the depth chart. He is not the first, second, or third name that comes to mind when you think of the 2011 NBA Draft. Yet, three picks after Kemba was chosen by the Hornets, Alec heard his name selected by the Jazz.

Alec Burks, the forgotten name from an unforgettable draft class, was chosen ahead of Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Vucevic, and Jimmy Butler, and now sits ahead of Kemba Walker on the Knicks depth chart.

Prediction

When these teams faced off earlier this season at Madison Square Garden, OG Anunoby went OFF for a career-high 36 points. It doesn’t seem like he’ll be ready for the rematch — or be at 100% if he does return — but Toronto is still in a solid position. Pascal Siakam missed the first meeting but has looked like his All-NBA self of late. New York has had the 26th-ranked defense over the last two weeks, surrendering at least 112 points in four of their last five games — all losses. The league’s best offensive rebounding team will look to take advantage of the 25th-ranked team in offensive rebounding % allowed. One streak ends for Toronto (keeping opponents under 100) but another one continues as the Raptors push their win streak to four with a 110-102 victory over the Knicks.

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Last Week: 1-2

Season Record for Predictions: 11-13