Raise your hand if you predicted literally any single thing that has happened in this completely backwards campaign for the Toronto Raptors. Did you have poisonous sewage spill? How about COVID ripping through the team? Aron Baynes being almost completely unplayable? Pascal Siakam being the scapegoat and Kyle Lowry staying amazing through everything? All right, you probably had that last one. Y
ou know what else you probably had on your predictability BINGO card? A game full of heartwarming moments between the Toronto Raptors and the San Antonio Spurs.
Maybe you like the swings of unpredictability that have loomed over this season. Well, special just for you folks, we’ve got the Raptors going 3-0 while seemingly committing to the tank. Coach Nick Nurse managed to cobble together three different starting lineups this week and the Raptors won ‘em all despite missing Lowry for every game and Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet for all but one. Are you satisfied now?
Let’s take the temperature.
Yuta Watanabe, Newly Minted
Not everyone in the NBA can be a superstar. Hell, not everyone can be a star or even a contributing member of a team. This can be due to a myriad of reasons, but one skill-set that typically leads to a player who almost always finds themselves employed and earning minutes is the defensive, hustle-oriented type. You can’t watch the play below and tell me there isn’t a direct correlation between the next two tweets.
This is just ridiculously good effort from Yuta pic.twitter.com/bS28uPEq2I— Vivek Jacob (@vivekmjacob) April 15, 2021
While Yuta has been a solid, almost perfect fundamental basketball player for the Raptors this season — at least on the defensive end — his newly signed standard contract could also be related to the added wrinkle that he is actually, you know, putting the ball through the hoop with consistency. Not only that, Watanabe is shooting the ball with extreme confidence.
yuta watanabe's 21 points (career high) vs. the magic. good showcase of his skillset on offense. pic.twitter.com/wyLaFrh79v— William Lou (@william_lou) April 17, 2021
No hesitation! Running floater and-ones! Dunks off of pump fakes! Straightaway threes! More Yuta always!
Paul Watson Jr., There the Whole Time
To quote the legendary Kelsea O’Brien “THAT’S THAT RAPTORS 905 BASKETBALL BABY”!
Would the Raptors be in the position they are in — see: a bad position — if instead of playing Stanley Johnson 730 minutes, they decided to transfer those minutes to a 47 percent three-point shooter who can do all of this?
The answer, almost certainly, is no. While Johnson might have the better defensive chops — and certainly defensive reputation — Watson Jr. is no slouch on that end. Yes, there are some definitive lapses in his defensive awareness, but it’s not as if he’s in “you need to hide me on defense” territory by any stretch.
On the other end of the court, Stanley doesn’t come close to what Watson Jr. offers. Stanley may boast better playmaking skills at time, but with Malachi Flynn’s emergence and DeAndre’ Bembry’s ability to distribute the ball, the Raptors now have overlap in the one offensive skillset that Stanley can claim to be slightly above average at.
So what gives? Why did it take this long for Nurse to run Watson Jr. for significant minutes? Was it showcasing Stanley at the trade deadline? Watson Jr.’s health? Some other grand mystery in Nurse’s ever-growing box of them? Raptors fans will likely never know the answer, but can rest easy knowing that Watson Jr.’s time has finally come.
Malachi Flynn, Positive Trajectory
Picture yourself watching back-to-back preseason games against the Charlotte Hornets. OG Anunoby is spinning LaMelo Ball into the ground and Malachi Flynn is a certified Rookie of the Year candidate. The future looks bright for the Tampa Bay version of the Toronto Raptors. Then reality and all of the terrible, horrible things associated with it came knocking on the Raptors’ door and there was no Flynn in sight to answer.
Since playing starter minutes, Malachi Flynn’s been averaging 14.3 points, 5.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 2.0 steals on 43/44/79 shooting splits.— Robel (@robeltussin) April 14, 2021
Like Watanabe, the crux of the story here is not so much about the improved numbers, but about the confidence and rhythm in putting those numbers up. Flynn is executing the pick-and-roll with incredible patience and pace, doing an excellent job at finishing with an array of floaters, bank shots and normal to ridiculous three pointers. That last one lead to one of the most unpredictable moments of the week.
getting in on the ground level with this: Malachi Flynn may be the one true J.R. Smith successor some day. hopefully Raptors fans watching this man play this week can back me up. u cant turn the shot difficulty dial up any further without breaking it and they go in a lot. A LOT.— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) April 14, 2021
Narrator: They didn’t back him up.
Freddie Gillespie, More Hustlers
After only playing two-big men who had disparate and glaring weaknesses, the Raptors loaded up on bigs right when it almost didn’t matter anymore. While Freddie Gillespie wasn’t already in the Raptors system, one can’t help but wonder what Toronto’s season might have looked like if they didn’t have to rely on Baynes and Chris Boucher exclusively for nearly the entirety of the season.
If that wondering lead you to imagining a world where the Raptors aren’t sitting outside of the playoff race in twelfth place, then you could probably describe yourself as someone who’s imagination is, for the most part, wholly sane and realistic.
Nobody, The Raptors Were Perfect
For the first time this season, the Raptors have had a perfect Toronto Temperature week. With that, nobody seems like the only answer for this portion of the article.