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Toronto Temperature: Staying optimistic with the core of the Raptors

The Raptors dropped a disappointing game, but the team is still indeed coming together. We stay optimistic in this week’s Temperature check.

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks
OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and DeAndre’ Bembry.

First things first, let’s address the most pressing matter that happened this week. The civil lawsuit filed by Alameda County Sheriff Alan Strickland against Masai Ujiri was dropped earlier this week due to damning video evidence from the officer’s body-cam and other footage within the stadium that showed a different account from the officer’s statement. With the case dropped, Masai decided to drop his countersuit and released this statement.

Which leaves us, once again, with the harmed individual being the bigger person and deciding that something positive has to come out of a heinous situation perpetuated by systemic racism and its actors. If there were ever any questions regarding Masai’s character, this statement further dispels those notions and asks us, the viewer, to evaluate our own character and what we can and will do to better a society that continuously allows events like this to unfurl.

One person who has an immediate course of action which they can and should undertake is Commission of the NBA, Adam Silver who had this to say by Ujiri.

Until the gut-reaction of white people like Adam Silver and Alan Strickland and the mechanisms put in place within systems built by white people are changed, there can be no rest, nor justice, nor peace for Black people. Until those systems are abolished with the express purpose of building Black people up instead of keeping them down, there will be no end to or shortage of these moments.

With that said, now let’s get to the Raptors and take the Temperature.

Who’s Hot

Fred VanVleet, Lights Out

What’s the opposite of a player securing a huge contract extension and then going through the motions, never really improving and counting his money?

How about continued improvement and a fire and will to lead and win?

Fred VanVleet has improved in almost every discernible way since locking into his $85 million extension from the Raptors this offseason. Maybe most impressive, has been his ability to do everything he’s doing on both ends of the court while averaging the third most minutes in the NBA. When Kyle Lowry couldn’t leg it out in Tuesday’s game against the Bucks, coach Nurse turned to VanVleet to lead the way, and lead he did.

Against the Bucks, VanVleet dropped a tidy 33 points on 54 percent shooting and was a gigantic factor in the Raptors suffocating defensive scheme that held the Bucks — a team that dropped 64 in the first half and has the second highest ORtg — to 49 points in the second half. He inexplicably missed more than one free throw for the first time this season, but VanVleet’s confidence in his ability to do it all and do it all well was the life-blood that the Raptors needed without their floor general. Yes, he had a real stinker against the Celtics, but Fred’s body of work over the week and this season far outweighs that loss.

Pascal Siakam, Playing Like He’s Supposed To

What a breath of fresh air it is to see Pascal Siakam back to balling how’s he used to. Over the week, Siakam averaged 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.25 steals on 42/42/80 all while playing his usual brand of high energy defense. With his 26 point performance against the Wizards, Pascal moved into 10th all time on the Raptors franchise scoring list.

These last few weeks for Siakam have seemed to act as a stabilizing force in his game. While he did rim out a game-tying layup in an eventual loss to the Timberwolves, Pascal is showing that he is indeed capable of consistently performing at a high level and that — not that he really had to prove it to anyone — is deserving of the max deal that the Raptors gave to him.

Raptors fans find themselves in a familiar place of having a star player who has his faults and drawbacks, but should absolutely be appreciated for what he is while he is in Toronto. It’s worth writing that Siakam is a proven winner, and this team could absolutely ascend to a championship level again with Pascal on the roster.

Kyle Lowry, Climbing the Leaderboards

After Pascal moved into the top 10 of Raptors scoring leaders by passing Antonio Davis, Tuesday night’s game saw Kyle Lowry become the Raptors third leading rebounder of all time by passing Davis as well. That’s right, 6’0” — on a good day — point guard, Kyle Lowry is now ahead of Davis and Amir Johnson, and behind Jonas Valančiūnas and Chris Bosh. Not a single person mentioned in that previous sentence is shorter than 6’9” other than Kyle. If that’s not a testament to Lowry’s incredible tenacity and perseverance, then really, what is?

Lowry also continued to inch closer to another Raptors milestone, as he’s now only 83 points away from passing Chris Bosh to become the second all-time leading scorer just behind his good buddy, DeMar DeRozan. With Lowry suffering an injury against the Bucks, here’s hoping that Raptors fans don’t have to wait too long for the greatest Raptor of all time’s next accomplishment.

More Who’s Hot

OG Anunoby, Clamps and Spins

No “Who’s Not” this week, only vibes.

Blissfully, the Toronto Raptors welcomed back their sweet prince, OG Anunoby after the do-it all forward missed 10 games with a left calf strain. While on a minutes restriction, OG did what he does best, decide an entire game with his mirror-like defense.

When Anunoby wasn’t wrecking ass on the defensive side of the ball, he was calmly stepping into three pointers in the corners and doing some light work as a pick and roll ball handler that carves up top-10 defenses with ease.

Come onnnnnnnnnnnnnn. Long live OG.

Malachi Flynn, Leading the Pups

One final shoutout for the week goes out to the saviour waiting in the wings, Malachi Flynn. Over the Raptors 905’s 4 game week, they went 2-2 — just like their parent club — with Flynn averaging 20.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Flynn is finally getting the run he was robbed of with the shortened NBA season, the lack of an NBA Summer League and a non-existent training camp and he is showing plenty of promise because of it. With Lowry potentially set to miss some games with a leg injury, it’s possible that the organization calls up Flynn for extended duties in his absence. Stay tuned.