Another day, another Toronto Raptors game in an empty arena against a depleted opponent. Tonight, the San Antonio Spurs make their annual trip to Toronto, minus their best player, while the Raptors are — for the second game in a row! — at full strength.
Raptors-Spurs games have had some extra juice the past couple of years, thanks to DeMar DeRozan; with DeRozan now doing it all in Chicago, only Jakob Poeltl remains to hold down the “former Raptor” fort.
These aren’t the same Spurs anymore, anyway. At 14-21, they’re off to one of the slowest starts of the Gregg Popovich era, and have lost three straight. Dejounte Murray, who’s having a sensational season, is currently in the health and safety protocols, meaning the Raptors have a golden opportunity to take advantage of another weakened opponent, to seal up their third straight win and to get their core players more minutes together.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:00PM ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby
San Antonio — Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl, Tre Jones, Derrick White
Toronto — David Johnson (calf – out), Goran Dragic (personal – out)
San Antonio — Keita Bates-Diop (hamstring – questionable), Zach Collins (ankle – out), Doug McDermott, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, Devontae Cacok (health and safety protocols – out)
If you thought the San Antonio Spurs were at the bottom of the three-point attempt ranks the past few seasons because of DeMar DeRozan, take a look at this season: San Antonio is 29th in attempts per game, at 30.4 shots. (They were dead last last season, and 28th the year before.
But after finishing last season 24the in three-point shooting percentage, they’ve jumped up to 10th this season.
Which brings us to the Raptors, who are 25th in opponent three-point shooting percentage.
I’m sure I don’t have to do the math for you, but a team that’s selective about its three-point shots and shoots a high percentage is bad news for a team that doesn’t defend the three-point line very well.
That said, with a full roster, the Raptors’ rotations and close-outs should be on the mark tonight.
Kicking off this preview talking about a guy who won’t even be playing doesn’t seem to make much sense. But have you seen Dejounte Murray’s numbers? I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing on NBA.com, so I had to flip over to Basketball Reference to be sure. Murray is really averaging 18 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, and two steals per game! Sure, it’s not exactly highly efficient — he’s only shooting 34% from downtown and his true shooting percentage is under .500. But those assist and rebound numbers, man... phew.
Keldon Johnson and Derrick White are in the lineup tonight (at least as of this writing!) and they’re also having solid, all-around seasons; Johnson is averaging 15 points and 7 boards, while shooting 45% from downtown on 3.5 attempts per game, while White is averaging 14.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists.
Jak on the rise
Speaking of Spurs having great seasons, Jakob Poeltl is currently in the midst of a career year. Now in his sixth year, he’s averaging career highs in both points (12.2) and rebounds (8.5), along with 1.4 blocks, while shooting 60% from the field.
Now, it’s not all roses for Jak; he’s still fouling way too much (13th in the league in fouls committed per game) and he’s shooting an absolutely atrocious 36% from the foul line. (That’s another stat that had me doing a double-take.) Still, it’s great to see Poeltl finding success in the league.
The Raptors, of course, don’t have a true traditional centre, and certainly not one in their starting lineup. Scottie Barnes will likely get the early call on Poeltl, and it’ll be a good test. While Poeltl isn’t flashy, nor is he a bruiser who’ll overpower oppoonents; but he does bring excellent footwork and traditional big man post moves to the table, and is a surprisingly good passer from the post. Khem Birch will surely draw a good chunk of minutes on Poeltl tonight as well — he held Jak to just 2-of-8 shooting when last these teams met — but I look forward to seeing how Barnes handles the early run.