Thus far, the only rule from this Toronto Raptors season is that there are no rules. As soon as the team gains some momentum in one direction that we as fans can wrap our heads around, the squad bucks that trend. At the very least, the Raptors keep us on our toes.
That said, this most recent stretch has been fun. Winning is fun. Watching tank-or-bust fans grapple with the fact that they are so committed to trying to sound smart that they won’t let themselves enjoy a little brightness in this dark season is fun.
Within all of that fun, we’ve learned some interesting lessons that worth diving into. We begin with the rotation.
1) The rotation works
Even in the small-ball driven, fun-but-short-lived stretch of successful basketball that the Raptors had this season, the rotation has never quite worked. The team began with a traditional lineup with Aron Baynes at centre, which didn’t work because Baynes was bad and Norman Powell boycotted making baskets in protest of coming off of the bench. (Just kidding!) Boucher at centre didn’t quite pan out either, as he lacked the bulk to battle with big men on defense and on the glass.
Toronto’s small-ball lineup — with OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam as the team’s frontcourt — was effective, but it didn’t lend itself to a sustainable rotation. It forced the starters to play an extremely taxing style and the team lacked pop and structure off the bench.
In our brief glimpse of the (almost) full-strength Raptors with their midseason additions, it finally feels like it all works.
For the time being, it appears that the starters will be Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and the newly added Khem Birch. Anyone who might supplant Birch was healthy on Wednesday, so for now, this is Nick Nurse’s direction. This starting lineup leads to a much more natural and logical rotation that fills the roles needed on a basketball team.
The starting lineup, as we know, is good and benefits immensely from Birch at the 5. With Gary Trent Jr. coming off the bench and the emergence of Malachi Flynn, the Raptors have some scoring punch and a guy that can take the keys to the offense and not drive it into the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, Boucher, when healthy, was always a more fitting sparkplug than starter — and better in the power forward spot. From there, Nurse has some options. Yuta Watanabe, Freddie Gillespie, Paul Watson Jr., and DeAndre Bembry have all done enough to warrant minutes in the right matchups.
Both the starters and the bench now make sense for Toronto. There is no “how will we do (insert one of Jack’s keys to the game)?”
There are no glaring holes or gaps that analysts can point to with this rotation structure. Obviously, more talent would help, but when is that not the case? Personally, I’d like to see the Raptors have a chance to play some games looking like this. Resting guys when the team has some positive momentum is just begging for bad juju.
2) This rest was a long time coming
Another possible explanation for the hot showing by the Raptors this week is the rest that they’ve been doling out to their star players in what initially appeared to be an attempted tank. Well, as we all know, the reserves kept winning and the top dogs — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG, and Siakam — finally got some legitimate and much-deserved relaxation time to various degrees and for different reasons.
It may not seem like much. but think about it. This is really the first time they’ve had a chance to shut down their bodies, and importantly, their minds in quite a long time. After a gruelling run in the Bubble, Toronto’s short offseason was compacted even more by the uncertainty with the team’s location. The players had to juggle the fatigue of uprooting their lives while getting ready for the next season. Did they look fresh and revitalized to start this season?
The schedule this season has felt relentless as well, with jam-packed weeks of basketball littered with back-to-backs (the bane of Toronto’s existence this season). Their first real break of the season, the All-Star break, was torpedoed by literally getting the coronavirus, plus Lowry’s toe injury. I’m exhausted by just writing all of that out.
Between the rest the Raptors finally received, in addition to a rare light stretch in the schedule, it feels like the Raptors stars have rediscovered some juice.
“Put it this way: I’m well rested. I’m very healthy and I’m very, very, very well-rest.” - Kyle Lowry— (((Eric Koreen))) (@ekoreen) April 22, 2021
Siakam and Anunoby were as sharp as ever on Wednesday night. They’re even finding time for a little fun by connecting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in what was simultaneously the most normal-feeling thing, yet somehow also by far the weirdest thing that has happened this season. Their attitude shows it, their words show it, and their play shows it. The Raptors are finally fresh. This could be fun.
3) The Earned Edition jerseys are excellent
Let’s talk about the Earned Edition jerseys for a moment. And by talk about them, I mean let’s gush about how awesome they are.
They drew the ire of Raptors fans when they were unveiled about a year ago. While I liked them at the time, I was too much of a coward to go against Raptors Twitter. Frankly, I still tend to hang back when it comes to that swimming pool of piranhas that is Toronto’s online fanbase. Being on the business end of their anger does not appear to be particularly fun.
But I’m ready to live my truth.
All of the best Raptors jerseys have incorporated the purple in some way (except for the Toronto Huskies jerseys, but that is a separate discussion), so consider that box checked. And while I’ve seen enough of the chevron jerseys for one lifetime, simply the triangle shape at the top of the purple before it transitions to black is far more tasteful.
On that note, the purple on black, a combo that hadn’t really been used in this way by the Raptors, is badass. It takes the Raptors purple from cartoonish to final boss-esque. It’s not required, but I like when jerseys set an alpha tone, and I think these jerseys function as such. I honestly think the Baltimore Ravens’ reputation as a tough, hard-nosed franchise in the NFL has something to do with the way they deploy the purple and black.
I’m no fashionista, and I know the jersey space is a polarizing one, but after seeing these guys in action, I’m all in on the Earned Editions. We’re also fresh off a win in those beauties, so there’s that as well.
Hopefully, the Raptors break the pattern of doing the exact opposite of the thing that we’re hoping for and collect some wins. Even better, let’s see them do it in purple and black.