The commentary after the first week of the regular season is normally filled with overreactions. Some players look better than anticipated. Others look like they did nothing over the Summer. Presumed lottery-bound teams get off to a surprising start (hello Utah) while championship contenders look... ummm... we’ll get to the Sixers shortly.
However, the news item that’s taken over my mind is the luxury tax!
Golden State recently agreed with Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins on 4-year extensions worth a combined $237 million! To put that into perspective, if you add up the entire Toronto Raptors’ roster’s guaranteed salaries, it’s currently $245 million. As if that’s not enough to blow your mind, Poole and Wiggins’ annual salaries are still lower than the annual salaries of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green!
The Warriors are an interesting case to consider for many teams at or near the luxury tax threshold — sparking this thought-provoking tweet.
One thing I’ve heard from a few executives is the idea that GSW — by having such a high tax bill — is pricing other teams out of going into the tax.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) October 15, 2022
If you’re in the tax, you don’t get the tax distribution payout. And the Warriors alone are paying $480M into that distribution.
Bobby Webster, Masai Ujiri, and the rest of Toronto’s front office have done an amazing job of balancing the books while remaining in contention year after year. The Raptors have only paid the luxury tax once since 2011 (which is as far back as Spotrac.com tracks). If you can’t guess which year, I’d suggest looking at the banner that’s situated directly above the Raptors’ bench.
Two seasons from now, only one player (Chris Boucher) is locked into a guaranteed contract. O.G. Anunoby has a player option and Scottie Barnes has a team option. The question has to be asked: if Toronto were to dip its toes back in the luxury tax water, who would be worth the price?
The season is not even one week old but Pascal Siakam sure looks like he’ll be worth every single penny the Raptors throw at him!
Only four players in NBA history have had a game with 35+ PTS, 10+ REB and 10+ AST on >75% FG.— Pascal Propaganda (@PascalFanClub) October 22, 2022
Spicy P has been on a torrid pace to start the season. Only five players are averaging at least 25 points and 10 rebounds: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Christian Wood, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, and Siakam. If you add in Pascal’s 7 assists per game, only James can also make that claim.
The gaudy numbers are even more impressive when you consider the competition. Siakam’s been guarded by Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, Bam Adebayo, and Jimmy Butler. Against that gauntlet, Pascal shot 18-for-28 (64%) and scored 35 points. Nothing forced. Everything within the flow of the game. Siakam has looked confident, comfortable, and in mid-season form.
When Toronto’s front office discusses his upcoming extension, Pascal’s leaving little doubt that he’s worth the maximum amount. Whether or not the Raptors are near the luxury tax threshold, Siakam’s showing he’s worth the price of admission!
October 24 @ Miami Heat
In last week’s Rap-Up, I mentioned the Heat and Raptors would likely split their doubleheader, ultimately landing on Toronto as the one to land the first blow.
I’m not sure who landed the first blow but Miami did walk away with the victory.
Miami's Nikola Jovic has also been suspended one game for leaving the bench area during the altercation. The NBA fined Toronto's rookie center Christian Koloko for $15,000 for grabbing Martin during the altercation. https://t.co/wdVjUYlIlz— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 24, 2022
Of much more importance, Scottie Barnes will likely miss some time after spraining his ankle. The second-year phenom hurt his shoulder in the first quarter of Saturday’s game. After a brief stint in the locker room, he returned to the court in the second quarter.....only to hurt his ankle. While he’s currently listed as questionable for Monday’s game, it would surprise no one if the team took the cautious route and rested Scottie (especially this early in the season).
Fun fact that may only interest me
Just 20 seconds into the 3rd quarter, Fred VanVleet picked up his 5th(!) foul. With the Raptors losing by 21, a rematch with Miami just two nights later, and Nick Nurse’s pre-season assertion that VanVleet’s numbers would lessen this year, all signs pointed to Freddy seeing a steady amount of bench time.
VanVleet wound up playing 20:42 out of the 24 second-half minutes... all but 20 seconds with five fouls.
The real Precious Achiuwa came out to play (unsurprisingly considering the opponent) in Miami. After a sluggish first two games of the new season, Achiuwa made sure to show his former team what they were missing out on. A repeat of that performance will be needed as he’ll surely step into the starting lineup in Barnes’ absence.
The loss of Caleb Martin (and to a lesser extent, Nikola Jovic) hurts Miami because they will continue missing the services of Victor Oladipo and Omer Yurtseven.
Speaking of Martin, the altercation with Christian Koloko was truly a turning point in the game. Toronto was down 81-59 before promptly going on a 17-2 run that quieted the dozens of Heat fans still in the building.
Whether you attribute the comeback to a complacent Miami squad or a rejuvenated Toronto team, the fact remains that the Raptors were the better team at the tail end of the game. I believe that momentum will carry over — Saturday night in South Beach be damned — as the Raptors beat the Heat 96-88.
October 26 & 28 vs Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia started the season with the toughest possible first two games. So, it shouldn’t be completely shocking that they lost to Boston and Milwaukee. But, as is the case with the Sixers, there’s always more to the story.
Joel Embiid declined to speak to reporters after tonight’s game.— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) October 21, 2022
The loss to Boston was disappointing because Philadelphia wasted a vintage James Harden performance (35 points on 14 field goal attempts) and a solid Joel Embiid outing to boot (26 points, 15 rebounds).
The loss to Milwaukee was disappointing because the Bucks were without Khris Middleton, Joe Ingles, and Pat Connaughton.
The cure for what ailed the Sixers was supposed to be a visit from the San Antonio Spurs. But not even a 40-point effort from Embiid could help Philadelphia overcome....* checks notes *...... Devin Vassell?!?
To the delight of many Raptors fans, the vibes are not-so-great in Philly.
Fun fact that may only interest me
The Raptors rank 29th in bench scoring with 19.7 points per game. We should have seen this coming, despite the pre-season hype, because Nick Nurse has historically stuck to a tight rotation. Unsurprisingly, Toronto’s lead reserve has been Precious Achiuwa. After a breakout game on Saturday (18 points, 11 rebounds), he’s up to 10.7 points per game.
Have I buried the lede long enough? Would you care to know about the team ranked 30th in bench scoring?
The 76ers bring up the rear with — wait for it — 11.8 bench points per game. The bench vibes are also not-so-great in Philly.
The good news for Philadelphia is that James Harden and Joel Embiid look very much like the best duo in the NBA, and Tyrese Maxey hasn’t lost a step since last year’s breakout. The bad news is that nobody else has stepped up for the Sixers. Tobias Harris is starting to show that when you turn 30, it’s the beginning of the decline (in NBA terms). Off-season acquisitions, PJ Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, and Montrezl Harrell have all been duds so far.
If you remove the December matchup from last season where half the Raptors team was out due to COVID, Toronto has won the last 16 regular season games at Scotiabank Arena against Philadelphia. While it may surprise no one if the Sixers break out of their early season slump against the Raptors, I’ll lean heavily on the team with the better-than-most vibes and better-than-most coach. Toronto follows up a 115-110 victory over Philadelphia with a 108-97 win*
*I’m predicting Scottie returns in the second game
Bonus prediction: If the Sixers also lose to the Pacers on Monday and leave Toronto with an 0-6 record, I’ll go as far as saying Doc Rivers gets fired!