The Toronto Raptors have lost five of their last seven games including, most recently, back-to-back losses against the now 8-20 Orlando Magic. Things could certainly be going better, and some Raptors fans are beginning to question the identity of this team. Questions like: “Is contending impossible without a quality big and a dearth of shooting?” “Is ‘Vision 6’9’ a lost cause?” Based on persistent rumours linking the Raptors to centers around the NBA, it’s clear that the Raptors’ front office asks them too.
What the Raptors are not doing, is panicking. I’m sure trade machine traffic is rising in the GTA, and fans are certainly entitled to worry about the team’s performance of late — it has been disappointing to watch. But before any serious conversations about disrupting the team’s core can be made, they deserve a chance to fix things themselves. They’re certainly capable of doing so. Just last year, the Boston Celtics started the season 18-21 before turning things around and reaching the NBA Finals. That’s a pretty dramatic example, but the same message applies: a tough start is not dooming.
Siakam: "We can't hit the panic button. I know a lot of people hit that panic button real quick but [we're] not doing that. There's no finger pointing. We're all in this together. No matter what's happening, I love these guys and I want everyone to succeed. I want us to succeed."— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 13, 2022
Tonight, the Raptors are at home to face the Sacramento Kings, who are no longer a punching bag but rather an exciting team currently sitting at fifth in the West. With the Kings on the second night of a back-to-back and the Raptors having an extra day off, can they take advantage and get things back on track — or will Sacramento light the beam?
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 7:30pm ET
Toronto – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Christian Koloko
Sacramento – De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes, Domantas Sabonis
Toronto – O.G. Anunoby (hip - OUT), Precious Achiuwa (ankle - OUT), Otto Porter Jr. (toe - OUT), Juancho Hernangomez (ankle - probable)
Sacramento – Alex Len (illness - OUT), De’Aaron Fox (foot - questionable)
Everything Through Siakam
The Raptors’ halfcourt offense has always depended on Pascal Siakam. Now, with O.G. Anunoby out and Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes struggling, Siakam’s workload will be even heavier. The good news is that despite the team’s struggles, Siakam is playing the best basketball of his career. He scored 55 points in the Orlando back-to-back, and attempted nine free throws in each game. Siakam is good enough to impose his will, and he’ll be looking to do that against Sacramento.
In the Raptors’ four games against the Kings since the COVID break, Siakam averaged 24.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists on a red-hot 62% field goal percentage. The Raptors went 3-1 in those games, with a total point differential of +61. All that to say, the Kings don’t have much of an answer for Siakam. They’re an improved team this season, but they’re lacking in wing defenders who can take Siakam one-on-one.
Like many talented young players, Scottie Barnes is experiencing something of a sophomore slump. He played a couple really good games last week, like his 21-point outing against Boston. But the consistency just hasn’t been there, and it would seem that one of his lower-body ailments continues to bug him. More worryingly, Barnes doesn’t always appear fully locked in, leading to some defensive lapses and stretches of offensive inactivity.
Taking a more long-term view, Barnes is going to be fine. Jayson Tatum, who experienced a similarly up-and-down second season, praised Barnes and made the point that defenses are no longer surprised by him — the next step for Barnes is responding to the attention he receives from opponents. Short-term view? The struggling, no-Anunoby Raptors would love to get that response right about now.
Shooting Woes Continue
Over their last seven games, the Raptors are shooting 29 percent from beyond the arc, which would comfortably be the worst percentage this season. Fred VanVleet’s struggles have visibly affected the offense, and while Trent appears to be getting back on track, the Raptors simply don’t have enough shooting to rely on threes — especially without Anunoby and Otto Porter.
With that said, 29 percent is a number that should positively regress, especially with the three-point chances that Siakam creates for others. Nick Nurse mentioned that VanVleet’s shooting form has been “off-kilter,” and that the coaching staff is working to fix it. With two days off since their last game, hopefully VanVleet can reset and find his shot again. Siakam is the engine that makes the offense go, but they can only do so much when VanVleet’s shot isn’t falling.