It’s hard to believe we’re at the quarter-point of the 2022-23 NBA season already! Heck, we’re technically past it. Life comes at you fast, as they say.
For the Toronto Raptors, it was the injuries that came at them fast, with who’s in or out of the lineup the main storyline for most of this young season. The team looks to be getting healthier as move into the second quarter of the season, but for now, let’s look back at who’s impressed and who’s underperformed so far.
Fred VanVleet: The All-Star point guard has been dealing with an illness for several weeks now (as have I — I feel ya, Freddy) and overall, his numbers are behind last year’s pace. He also hasn’t had one of those “Fred catches fire and rains threes for eight straight minutes” games that propelled him to last year’s All-Star selection. Still, watching VanVleet use his “heavy hands” to strip an opposing player who dares bring the ball down below his waist is always a treat — and watching any game where the Raptors try to organize themselves without him is a disaster.
Pascal Siakam: Damn that floor at American Airlines Center! When Siakam slipped there on November 4, it put a stop on what was one of the most incredible starts to a season we’ve seen a Raptor have. In those first 9 games, Siakam was averaging 25/9/8 on 48/34/73 shooting. His command of the floor was so elevated over what we’d seen from him previously, it was like the cliche “the game has slowed down for him” come to life. Siakam slipping was the worst thing to happen in Dallas since Kennedy was shot. He’s back now, and has shown flashes in the past two games, so hopefully the MVP campaign is back on track.
Scottie Barnes: Ya Boy Scottie is in a slump, folks. Is the talk around the slump overblown? It’s 2022, of course it is. That doesn't mean it isn’t real. Barnes’ scoring, rebounding, and overall shooting are down from his rookie season (his assists and three-point shooting are up). Pascal Siakam’s injury was an opportunity for Barnes to step up, but he didn’t take advantage; he cracked 20 points just once during Siakam’s absence. More alarmingly, Barnes just doesn’t look good out there. He’s coasting through possessions, failing to rotate on defense, and settling for shots. And the joy that was all over face in his rookie season appears only fleetingly.
Scottie, please come back. If only to shut up those Evan Mobley fanboys.
Gary Trent Jr.: Trent is the latest victim of the classic Nick Nurse callout — and once again the results seem promising. Since Nurse said Trent needed to play better defense to “fit us,” Trent has notched 11 steals. Trent still get demoted — perhaps temporarily, perhaps not — to a bench role two games ago... but he’s hit 16 of his 29 shots while scoring 49 total points in those two games. Is the slump busted? It’s too early to tell, but either way, Trent’s lack of consistency is reflected in this grade.
O.G. Anunoby: Finally, the conversation around Anunoby has shifted from what he’s not — primary ballhandler/playmaker/scorer — to what he is — an outright terror on defense. It’s not like we didn’t know the latter — but offense is always the thing we look at first. With Anunoby, the conversation should always begin and end on defense, and with him leading the league in steals, grabbing a career high in rebounds, and putting the clamps on opposing starts every night (he’s 7th in the league in defensive win shares), it is. But by the way: the offense isn’t too shabby either: He’s averaging a career-best 18.7 points per game.
Precious Achiuwa: We were all hoping Achiuwa’s post-All-Star play from last season would carry forward into 2022; unfortunately, it hasn’t. Or rather, hadn’t — on the same night Nick Nurse called Achiuwa out for his subpar play, usually a surefire turnaround tactic (see the entry on Trent above), Achiuwa hurt his ankle and hasn’t played since. Like Barnes, Achiuwa’s grade isn’t just for the results on the floor, but also for falling short of expectations. He looks to be out for another couple weeks — then he’ll need some conditioning leeway — so I don’t expect much to change between this and the future mid-season report card.
Khem Birch: Birch has been all-but unnoticeable on this Raptors team. He missed early time with a knee injury, and in the 11 games he has played, he’s only been on the floor for about seven minutes per game. While his play has been generally fine, only getting one rebound per game isn’t helping much.
Otto Porter Jr.: We haven’t seen enough of Porter to make a real grade — but what we have seen has been fairly promising. He’s shooting 35% from downtown, making good reads on defense, and has been a calming veteran presence on the offensive end. I hope to see a lot more of Porter soon!
Chris Boucher: Boucher’s energy and effort aren’t usually in doubt, and they sure haven’t been this year; if he’s on the floor, he’s in the mix in almost every play. Unfortunately, the three-point shooting hasn’t been there — a career-low 28%. Still, even with the high energy and the resulting chaos that surrounds Boucher (even his falls are chaotic; on Wednesday, he had a shot blocked, got his arm bent awkwardly, and landed hard... on the ball), there's something calming and comforting when he enters the game. I guess the chaos isn’t so bad when you know it’s coming!
Thad Young: What an odd season Thad has had. He was somehow in the doghouse to start, playing 7 minutes a night in the first nine games — and getting DNP-CDs in three of them. Then Siakam got hurt and the minutes starting going up... and the team looked better and better in his minutes on the floor... and suddenly he’s playing 27 minutes a night over the past eight games — all starts. Now, the Raptors are only 4-4 in those games and Young’s numbers aren’t eye-popping but the team seems to benefit from his veteran presence.
Malachi Flynn: Flynn had a golden opportunity against the Brooklyn Nets last week. The Raptors were shorthanded, missing Siakam, VanVleet, Achiuwa, Porter, and Barnes, and Flynn was given his first start of the season. He hit two three pointers in the first three minutes... and then didn’t score again until garbage time. He played 30 minutes, only got three assists and one rebound, and was a -19 in the 14-point loss. And that’s exactly what Flynn’s Raptors tenure has been to date: Momentary flashes, and long stretches of mediocrity.
Juancho Hernangomez: Hernangomez’s season has been a little like Thad Young’s — he barely played at the start of the year, but has been a big factor in the last nine games. He's playing 24 minutes a night and doing all kinds of dirty work out there, averaging 6 rebounds and 1 steal per contest. He’s also shooting 53%. Like Thad, Juancho isn’t flashy, but he's doing just what the team needs of him.
Christian Koloko: The rookie Koloko might be the toughest one to grade, here. On the one hand, injuries and matchups prompted Nick Nurse to start Koloko in nine games. No one expected a second-round draft pick, who projected as a, well, project, to start that many games — heck, to even play that many games — this early. (Koloko and Anunoby are the only Raptors to play in every single game, in fact.) And predictably, Koloko’s play has had serious highs and lows. Koloko showed brilliant defensive flashes; at times, the team looked like a completely different (more traditional) team out there, relying less on perimeter disruption and more on defending the rim. But Koloko had just as many minutes where was out of position on D, and offensively, is still learning what it takes to score (or draw fouls) in the paint in the NBA. So he’s exceeded expectations while at same time, still looking like a raw rookie. So I guess we just average it out!
Dalano Banton: Banton started off the season playing well in a change-of-pace role off the bench, then hit a slump around game 10... before delivering a scintillating performance against the Detroit Pistons on November 14, where he scored 27 points on 16 shots — with four rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. Then he hurt his ankle and missed three games. He looked good in limited minutes against the Pelicans, though, so we can hope he’s on track to continue to provide that bench spark with Chris Boucher, especially in the absence of Precious Achiuwa.
Justin Champagnie: Poor Champagnie has been dealing with a back injury since camp, and only has 8 garbage time minutes to his name so far. He finally got some 905 minutes this week in a loss to the Delaware Blue Coats. Hopefully we’ll see more Champagnie in the weeks to come.
Jeff Dowtin (TW): Dowtin has had some moments with the big club; pressed into action as the team dealt with injuries, Dowtin played 15 minutes in a win over the Detroit Pistons, 21 in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets, and 12 in last weekend’s win over Dallas. Sure, he’s only scored 16 total points in those two games, but he shot 7-for-13 and had a 6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. It’s tough to ask for much from a young guard on the offensive end than that! Dowtin is also averaging 22/3/7 on 48/38/85 shooting in the G League.
Ron Harper Jr. (TW): Nothing much to see here, as Harper’s only played 7 minutes of garbage time across two games. Harper’s playing well in the G League though, where he’s averaging 20 points (on 52% shooting) and 6.5 rebounds in 33.5 minutes per game.
Nick Nurse: With so many injuries, it’s easy to credit Nick Nurse for managing to lead the team to an 11-10 record. The lack of consistency is distressing; they’ve yet to win more than two games in a row, and the defensive effort, which should be this team’s hallmark, seems to wane from night to night. But again, the lineup changes make consistency extra challenging. Nurse also deserves credit for continuing to light the fire under guys, as he did this past week with Trent. And, although injuries again have a lot to do with this, I also credit Nurse for giving different guys different looks, and sticking with them for longer stretches than he might have in the past — Hernangomez being a perfect example.
Well, that’s a lot of Bs, but with that 11-10 record and a bevy of injuries, a lot of Bs does seem appropriate. As we head into the next quarter, health is top of mind, as is getting Barnes and Trent on track. This team is definitely better than its record, and at full health should be capable of a winning three or more games in a row — often. A 13-7 record in the next 20 sounds like a reasonable goal to me! See you after game 41.