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Toronto Raptors v Dallas Mavericks

The Rap-Up: Scary Hours in the NBA

Is anything spookier than having to face Trae Young and Luka Doncic just days after being torched by Tyrese Maxey? Let’s see if we can find any tricks or treats in this week’s Raptors games.

Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Halloween is here and things couldn’t be scarier in the NBA!

No, I’m not going to comment on the scary things that involve Kyrie Irving or Josh Primo. Nor will I be commenting on the Nets or Lakers because that’s not even scary — it’s downright hilarious.

Oh, wonderful reader, there are some scary good stories coming out of every corner of the Association.

Paolo Banchero is tied for 2nd in fouls drawn — not among rookies, in the whole damn league. With all the youth and length (more on this below) in Orlando, the Magic certainly have the roster to frighten teams in the near future.

The Bucks have the number 1 defense and are the last undefeated team in the league. They’re also doing all of this without Khris Middleton. There’s a lot of parity in the NBA right now, but Milwaukee should scare everyone as the clear-cut best team.

Rudy Gobert is averaging more field goal attempts than ever in his career. As he continues to get comfortable in Chris Finch’s offense, he should be able to improve his FG% from 60.6% (“only” good for 8th in the league) to his career average of 65.3%. Just thinking about the Olympics with France rolling out Gobert, Joel Embiid, and Victor Wembanyama has me in the fetal position.

The Raptors hit the road this week to face two teams in Texas. One of the teams is a half-game out of first in the West. The other team has Luka Doncic. That’s a scary thought.

October 31 vs Atlanta Hawks

I have gone on record before the season to state my level of enthusiasm for the new-look Hawks... or lack thereof. Don’t get me wrong. Dejounte Murray is a ridiculously talented individual who fills the stat sheet and brings more to the table than takes off.

Part of my issue is not what Murray takes off the table, but what the Hawks sacrificed to get him. Atlanta traded Danilo Gallinari and, in a subsequent trade to free some cap space, Kevin Huerter. Gallo averaged 1.7 made threes per game on 38.1% shooting from downtown, while Huerter hit 2.2 threes at 38.9% — Atlanta’s two best non-Trae-Young outside shooters.

Young’s incredible shot-making range allows him the real estate to drive into the lane where he will often have the luxury of dissecting a scrambling defense. Replacing Gallo and Huerter with Murray and DeAndre Hunter doesn’t quite strike the same outside shooting fear.

As for Murray, the trade to Atlanta unleashed an inner, cocky persona that I frankly didn’t know existed while he was a Spur. There were plenty of pro-am games worth of evidence that I won’t give him the gratitude of sharing. The bigger question is how will Murray deal with playing second fiddle to Young? Murray has never been a knock-down outside shooter — although he has started his Hawks career making more threes per game (2.0) and scoring at a higher efficiency (38.7 3-pt FG%) than ever before.

The offensive shift is already showing up in the box score. The Hawks dropped from 17th in 3-point frequency to 29th and jumped from 10th to 1st in mid-range frequency. The trade-off has resulted in a drop in offensive efficiency from 2nd last season to 9th this season.

Fun fact that may only interest me

According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Hawks have six players, including Young, Murray, and the two lesser Holiday brothers, that are all lighter (195 pounds or less) than Fred VanVleet (197 pounds).

In fact, Atlanta is the lightest team in the league.

Prediction

This game will be won or lost in the mid-range. The Hawks shoot 40.8% of their field goal attempts in the mid-range — tops in the league. The Raptors allow a league-low 46 two-point field goal attempts and also limit opponents to a league-low 7.3 rebounds. In other words, Toronto is the best in the league at ensuring opponents are one-and-done on their offensive trips. That won’t bother Atlanta as much as it would others since they rank 6th in FG%.

Young may be a difficult cover on defense, but he’s also easy to target on the other end.

Toronto has won 13 of the last 14 non-Tampa-season meetings between the teams. But we saw what a shifty/quick point guard can do to the Raptors, especially if his shot is falling. In addition to his otherworldly shot-making abilities, Trae Young has also taken better care of the ball. His 6.8% turnover percentage ranks in the 96th percentile among guards. Atlanta ranks 1st in turnover percentage. That does not bode well for Toronto’s transition offense. Atlanta pulls out a 118-112 victory.

November 2 @ San Antonio Spurs

Quick — name 5 active Spurs!

Jakob Poeltl and Keldon Johnson are forever linked to the Raptors championship, whether they like it or not. So, you should have at least named them.

The draft was only a few months ago, so maybe you’ll remember Jeremy Sochan — the lottery pick destined to make Spurs fans forget about last year’s lottery pick.

Maybe you’ll remember Tre Jones... but only because his brother, Tyus, is leading the reserves in Memphis whenever Ja Morant sits.

Even if you didn’t know he was a Spur, who could forget famed Raptor Killer, Doug McDermott. He’s joined in the rotation by another familiar face from Toronto’s championship run, Josh Richardson.

If you managed to name other Spurs, stop lying to yourself!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Gregg Popovich is the greatest coach in NBA history. Go ahead and debate with your Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson argument, but sometimes you just have to sit back and revel in Pop’s work. How he drew up this play is beyond my comprehension.

Prediction

San Antonio should be tanking. They traded away their only All-Star, who is entering his prime and still had two years left on a very team-friendly salary. They then waived the player they received, keeping only the bevy of first-round picks they also got. Devin Vassell, who may miss this game due to an injury, is their second-leading scorer. McDermott and Richardson, despite how washed they are, play rotation minutes and are actually needed by the Spurs. Again, this should be a lottery team.

Yet, Pop has his troops at 5-2 with impressive victories over Philadelphia, Chicago, and Minnesota (x 2).

Toronto can lean into its strengths in this matchup. San Antonio coughs up the ball more than most (27th in the NBA), which should lead to transition opportunities for Toronto. In transition, The Spurs give up transition chances at a bottom-10 rate and allow transition points at a below-average rate. That’s enough to sway me. The Raptors get by the Spurs, 121-107.

November 4 @ Dallas Mavericks

The Raptors had better learned a few lessons from defending Trae Young because they’re going to need all of them when they face Luka Doncic.

The preseason MVP favourite has been nothing short of spectacular. His averages so far are spookier than any Halloween costume you’ll see:

36.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.7 assists

ELL OH ELL

To put those numbers in perspective, let’s look at Toronto’s starting guards, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., and what they’re averaging... combined:

32.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 8.9 assists

In the off-season, the Mavericks also managed to pull off a trade that many fairweather fans attempt in trade machines: sending multiple players with little to no playing time in exchange for a star player. But this time it was accepted!

Turning Sterling Brown, Trey Burke, Marquese Chriss, Boban Marjanovic, and Wendell Moore Jr. into Christian Wood was a stroke of genius by Nico Harrison and the Mavs staff. Wood has rewarded his new employers and is garnering early buzz for Sixth Man of the Year. He’s one of four players to average at least 15 points per game while also not starting at least one game. The other three are an interesting group that includes the 6MOTY favourite, Jordan Poole, the resurgent John Wall, and the surprising Canadian, Benedict Mathurin!

Keep an eye on post-ups as three of the best point generators out of the post will be sharing the floor.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Have you ever looked at Doncic’s Basketball-Reference.com page? Here’s a list of all of Luka’s nicknames:

  • The Matador / El Matador
  • Cool Hand
  • The Don
  • Wonder Boy
  • El Niño Maravilla
  • Swaggy L
  • Luka Legend
  • Too Easy
  • Luka Magic

Other than Cool Hand Luka, which is still one of the best nicknames in the NBA, I’ve never heard any of the other names mentioned. Regardless, he’s earned the kind of distinction that warrants 9 different nicknames.

Prediction

The Dallas Mavericks confuse me. They rank 30th in percentage of plays in the halfcourt but also dead last in transition frequency. I don’t know how their offensive plays are happening but they’re 1st in free throw rate and 1st in 3-pointers attempted rate. That’s a recipe for disaster for a Toronto team that ranks 24th in defensive free throw rate and 29th in defensive 3-point rate.

I know your eyes will be glued to Doncic when Dallas is on offense, but pay attention to the corners. The Mavericks rank 3rd in frequency of corner threes. I expect Doncic to pick his poison throughout the game, toggling between scoring with finesse, drawing shooting fouls, and constantly pressuring Toronto 4-on-3 when he’s doubled. Dallas defeats the visiting Raptors, 123-110.

November 6 vs Chicago Bulls

When Lonzo Ball was ruled out for the foreseeable future, I thought that was a bad omen for a Chicago team that was hit with the injury bug at the worst time last season, ultimately leading to a plummet in the standings and a quick exit from the playoffs.

Their season has been a mixed bag of highs and lows. Chicago handed Boston and Miami their first losses of the season. That was balanced by losses to Washington, San Antonio, and a heartbreaker against Philadelphia.

The Bulls are an interesting team to watch from a Raptors perspective. DeMar DeRozan is the former Raptor that fans hated to see leave. Goran Dragic is the former Raptor that fans could wait to see leave.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Considering the Raptors’ week starts with Dejounte Murray vs. Fred VanVleet — the league leaders in deflections per game in each of the last three seasons (Murray last year; VanVleet the previous two years) — it’s odd that neither of them is in the top five in total deflections so far this season. Murray is currently 6th, while VanVleet is 7th.

The top two in total deflections both play for the Bulls: Javonte Green and Alex Caruso.

What’s even more impressive is that, of the top 10 players in total deflections, Green has played the fewest minutes! Through Sunday, Javonte has already recorded 31 deflections in only 124 minutes. VanVleet has recorded 22 deflections in 228 minutes.

Prediction

The Raptors head into this matchup having lost six of the last seven meetings, which was preceded by a 12-game win streak. (Yet another streak ruined by Tampa)

This figures to be a tight battle of strength versus strength. Chicago ranks 1st in turnover percentage (surprise surprise) while Toronto ranks 3rd in protecting the rock. The Bulls offense ranks 2nd in long midrange shots, but the Raptors are the best at preventing those looks.

Both teams rank in the top 3 in defensive rebounding rate. Chicago can do so because one of Nikola Vucevic or Andre Drummond is always on the floor. Toronto can do so because there will always be at least 3 players with a 7-foot wingspan eager to kickstart a fastbreak.

If the week plays out as I’m predicting it does, the Raptors will have a little extra motivation to right the ship after a pair of losses to Atlanta and Dallas — let alone winning in front of the home crowd before heading to Chicago for the rematch. Toronto squeezes by the Bulls, 113-111.

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Last Week: 2-1

Season Record for Predictions: 4-2

Raptors struggle from the jump and fall short 126-108 in New Orleans

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