It took a minute, but the Toronto Raptors are starting to seem like the team we’d expected they would be. They look sounder on defense (they’ve kept their opponents under 100 points in three straight games – their last time doing that was during the 2019-20 season), they’re taking care of the ball on offense, and Pascal Siakam looks like he’s getting more comfortable after returning from injury.
Of course, these things could all be an aberration. Maybe Washington just showed up in Toronto out of gas and made the Raptors look good. Perhaps they’re just the perfect matchup for Siakam to go absolutely ballistic. My money is on the truth being somewhere in the middle — a lot of things went the Raptors’ way in that Wizards game, but their team defense really does seem crisper. And while Siakam does level up against the Wizards, this was an important step for him to take towards returning to a more central role in the offense.
Unfortunately, a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder won’t tell us much about how real anything is. This is a team that lost by 73 points to the Memphis Grizzlies. They are, simply put, quite bad, and that is their management’s intention. If not for the superpowers of Canadian star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, this team would be doing even worse than their 7-16 record.
On the bright side, they have some fun players to watch. Sixth-overall pick Josh Giddey makes some delightful plays, and one of the best Canadian players, Lu Dort, is a defensive monster who’s quietly made some strides on offense. This is another one of those games where we’ll see a big collection of Canadian talent on the court at once.
It will not, however, have more talent on the court than your average NBA game. Once again, they’re quite bad – but if there’s one thing this game can tell us, it’s that if the Raptors lose, the recap will have a far less rosy outlook than this preview. Here are the details for tonight’s game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa
Oklahoma City – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
Toronto – OG Anunoby (hip – out), Khem Birch (knee – out), Goran Dragic (personal – out)
Oklahoma City – None
If there’s any bright side to losing a game by 73 points, it’s that things can only go up from there. In fact, in some ways, it puts additional pressure on Thunder opponents; no one wants to be the team that just got beat by the team that lost by 73 points! And honestly, at 7-16 with that loosely strung-together collection of players, the Thunder are actually better than that record-setting number would seem to suggest.
That doesn’t mean that they’re approach to building a team should not be criticized. Yes, Sam Presti is great at turning distressed assets into picks. And he’s got a couple of great building blocks in Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey. But what is the goal? What are all those picks worth? Presti doesn’t seem to actually be doing anything with them, beyond wasting Shai’s early prime.
It’s just another reminder of how lucky Raptors fans are that we have a management team that knows how to build a team while still being competitive.
Bring Good Gary back
Gary Trent Jr. missed two games last week with a calf injury, and although he’s come back healthy, his shot seems to have disappeared. He’s just 5-for-24 in the past two games — both wins, amazingly enough — and is averaging just seven points. That’s down from 17 points on 43% shooting over the first 20 games of the season.
The Thunder aren’t quite as bad on defense as you’d think — 18th in defensive rating, 19th in opponents points per game, and 13th in opponents FG%. But Trent saw great success against the Thunder last season; in four meetings (two with Toronto, two with Portland) against OKC, Trent averaged 24 points per game on 49% shooting, along with 2.75 steals.
If there’s a game for Gary to get back on track, it’s this one!
Coach speaks, rookie listens
It’s been seven games since Nick Nurse almost casually mentioned how he thinks Scottie Barnes should be shooting more three-pointers; in those seven games, Barnes has shot 4.1 threes per game (after shooting fewer than one per game in his first 15 games), and is making them at a 44% clip.
Guess Nurse knows what he’s doing up there, eh?
One the cool things about Barnes is just how coachable he seems. Everything the Raptors want him to do, he takes on and very quickly seems to excel at.
feels like his greatest strength is that he just leans how to do things faster than most people— Sean Woodley (@woodleysean) December 6, 2021
I know it’s only been 22 games, but everything Barnes is doing is exceeding expectations — and those expectations were already pretty high for the fourth overall pick! For some context, his 15 points (on 49% shooting) and eight rebounds per game are all better than rookie Chris Bosh’s numbers, and that guy just made the Hall of Fame!
Barnes has a loooong way to go to match Bosh’s career, but he’s off to a heck of a start.