If you were looking for an eventful week from your Toronto Raptors, then you were in luck over the last seven days. For one, Raptors fans finally got to see Bobby Webster sign his multi-year contract extension which, at the very least, will help alleviate some amount of nerves regarding the future of the front office. Meanwhile on the court, a 2-1 record over the week with wins against the Nets on national television and a spirited comeback victory against the Grizzlies and local favourite Jonas Valanciunas went a long way in buoying collective spirits.
Looking for more? How about the Raptors 905 being named G League Franchise of the Year? With the prestigious award under their belts and the ball firmly in Malachi Flynn’s hands, there is a lot to be excited about with the upcoming 15-game Bubble season starting tonight with the 905 taking on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
With all of that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper, take the temperature and forget all about the sluggish, back-to-back effort the Raptors displayed against the Hawks (to say nothing of the gross mishandling of Kevin Durant’s COVID protocol by the NBA), shall we?
Pascal Siakam, Reclaiming His Game
There is no louder voice than the throngs of social media mavericks and TV talking heads when Pascal Siakam is struggling. Since the Bubble, Siakam has had prolonged stretches of very bad basketball and he took a heaping amount of flak for it. All of this is to say that when Pascal steadily puts together performances like he did against the Grizzlies and Nets this week and a slew of games over the last two weeks, it’s noteworthy when those same voices suddenly fall quiet.
This is not to say that Pascal hasn’t deserved some of the criticism he’s received — far from it. But with four 30+ point games over his last seven and a renewed determination to get to the basket as opposed to settling for a three-point shot that looks to need an offseason retooling, it would seem that Pascal is due some flowers for his recent play. Where are those same voices now?
Norman Powell, 2019 Consistency
Remember last year, when Powell ascended into a consistent, flame-throwing sharpshooter who got out of his own way and stopped making head-scratching mistakes? That Norman Powell finished out the final five games of regular NBA basketball in 2020 (pre-Bubble) as Eastern Conference Player of the week. Good news: it looks like he’s returned.
Over his last eight games — minus two in the middle that he missed from injury — Powell is averaging 22.9 points on a 50/46/85 shooting slash. Moreover, these numbers are not terribly far off of his season averages of 45/42/86, so there is reason to believe that Norm’s season averages can continue to climb. Powell hung 18, 20 and 29 over the three-game stretch this week, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens to his game and his placement in the lineup when OG Anunoby eventually returns from injury.
Chris Boucher, Bench Monster
One week you’re not hot and another week you’re hot — such is the fickle business of taking the temperature. After a string of lousy play that saw his minutes decline in coach Nick Nurse’s rotation, Chris Boucher bounced back in a big way in this week’s three-game stretch.
Over that stretch of games, Boucher averaged 19.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game on 58 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent shooting from three point range. All of this, mind you, is entirely off the bench. Moreover, he even managed to hold his own against the much, much larger Jonas Valanciunas in Monday night’s game against the Grizzlies.
chris boucher played the last 17 minutes of the game. raptors outscored grizzlies 46-21 in that time and boucher was crucial in the raptors' efforts to stop both Ja and JV pic.twitter.com/NtYdi6MCya— William Lou (@william_lou) February 9, 2021
The Toronto Raptors desperately need production out of Boucher in the 6th or 7th man role if they are going to have any shot at getting to the playoff this season. While they don’t necessarily need him to score 20 points per game off of the bench — though it is nice when he does — consistent production on the boards and patrolling the lane to protect the basket are absolutely crucial to a team that lacks the personnel to excel in both categories.
Jonas Valanciunas, Is Missed
It’s always such a treat to watch Jonas succeed and Valanciunas gave Raptors fans exactly what they could have hoped for from him: a monster 27-point, 20-rebound double-double and poor play in the fourth quarter that helped the Raptors rally and win on the road. Never change, JV.
All Star Weekend, This Should Not Be Happening
The reason why the All-Star Weekend, originally due this weekend, now delayed to March 4-7, is clear as day: the league values its bottom line over the health and safety of its employees. With that out of the way, it’s staggering that the players — of which some have been publicly vocal about the activities — aren’t doing more to stop this from happening. The question that lingers is one with limited answers: what could they actually do?
LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Vice President of the NBPA Kyrie Irving have all of late voiced their disappointment in the league for moving forward with All-Star Weekend. With the stature of these players, one has to ask themselves what the NBPA is really doing here. One would also have to assume that out of the players listed above, at the very least LeBron James would have been consulted by the NBPA about the league moving forward with their plans to have the All-Star Game take place. This leads to even more questions.
Are the player’s hands now tied? Outside of a league-wide strike, did the players and their union have any leverage whatsoever? Will there be a demonstration during that weekend by the players to show how they feel about the festivities going on while the league continues to postpone games — the number is 24 throughout the season thus far — and their peers get sick with a virus that has shut down a good chunk of the world?
We’re days away from the start of a ordinary weekend that used to be widely celebrated and the only question I can think to ask myself as a fan is, is that even possible anymore?
[The original version of this post did not mention that All-Star weekend, typically held over this coming weekend in February, has been delayed until March.]