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Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors

The Rap-Up: Manipulating the All-Star ballot

With Pascal Siakam well on his way to a second All-Star game appearance, Raptors fan voting should shift their attention to ensuring O.G. Anunoby makes his first!

Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

All-Star voting is around the corner, so you know it’s time to start planning out how to vote.

Pascal Siakam should be a lock to make his second appearance. He’s the leader of the team and has somehow taken another leap in his otherwise meteoric rise to superstardom.

The bigger question is whether or not Toronto deserves a second All-Star — namely O.G. Anunoby over Fred VanVleet.

The answer usually lies in how well the Raptors are performing. If they’re in the top 4, they’ll have enough eyes on them to warrant an additional spot. But that part’s out of our control.

What is in our control is the fan voting which, while only accounting for one-third of the total balloting, is still important in the grand scheme of things. A large part of the reasoning for backing Anunoby over VanVleet is that the other two-thirds of All-Star balloting — media and players — both lean heavily in O.G.’s favour.

Before outlining our ideal make-O.G.-an-All-Star ballot, let’s go through some ground rules. There will be 5-7 forwards/bigs chosen (5 forwards plus as much as 2 wild cards). The shoo-ins are Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Kevin Durant. We should probably add Siakam to that list because we can’t have Anunoby as an All-Star without Pascal first making it in.

That leaves Anunoby as one of the two wild cards. We can get him there but let’s first look at the guards.

Unlike the incredibly deep list of forwards, I only see three locks with the guards: Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, and Tyrese Haliburton. Cleveland is quietly lurking in 3rd spot and threatening to join Boston and Milwaukee in the top tier of the conference. If each of them gets a second All-Star, Darius Garland, Jaylen Brown, and Jrue Holiday would earn nods. That’s the final two guard spots and one of the two wild cards.

You can make the case for Anunoby over anyone else using a multitude of reasons: playing for lottery-bound teams (Paolo Banchero, Jalen Brunson), not playing enough games (Khris Middleton, James Harden), possibly being traded out of the conference (DeMar DeRozan), likely antisemitic (Kyrie Irving).

The final obstacle is Jimmy Butler. This is where all of us can help. It won’t be easy getting a second Raptor in before one Heat player. But if Toronto rises into the top 4 and Miami is still near the bottom of the playoff picture (they have yet to play a game over .500 season), then it’s in the realm of possibility. My suggestion is to split the Miami vote and put Bam Adebayo on your ballot. The further down Butler is on the final tally sheet — especially if he’s near or behind a teammate — the better it looks for Anunoby.

You can further strengthen your ballot by not voting for any other possible wild cards that could affect Anunoby’s standing. So, you should either vote for the locks (Mitchell and Young) or vote for someone with no chance (Killian Hayes and Cole Anthony... sorry, no disrespect).

So, there’s your official make-O.G.-an-All-Star ballot: Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young, O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Bam Adebayo.

Now onto this week’s picks.

December 5 vs Boston Celtics

With all due respect to every Raptors opponent so far, THIS is the first big game of the season for Toronto!

There’s no better way to gauge where your team stands than by playing against the best. Sure, the Raptors will likely be without Precious Achiuwa and Otto Porter Jr., but the Celtics have been without Robert Williams and Danilo Gallinari (and Ime Udoka) all season long.

Boston has the highest offensive Rating in the league... ever! Last season, the Utah Jazz led the league with a rating of 116.7, which wasn’t too far off from the previous season’s leader, Brooklyn Nets, who set an NBA record-high 118.3 offensive rating. The Celtics are currently at 121.3!

A large portion of what’s raising that rating is their shooting. Boston is averaging 40.4% from three! To put that in perspective, not a single Raptors rotation player is even hitting 36% of their threes. Also, it’s not like the Celtics are doing it at a low volume — they’re second in attempts and first in made threes. In addition to their hot shooting from behind the arc, they’re the closest to automatic from the charity stripe. Boston’s 84.7% free throw percentage (tied with Miami) would be the highest in NBA history! Add all those ridiculous percentages together and Boston’s 59.4% effective field goal percentage would destroy the NBA record of 57.5% by the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets.

Fun fact that may only interest me

What, you didn’t have fun with all stats in the previous section?

You won’t find many (or any) arguments with Jaylen Brown making his second All-Star game appearance over Anunoby. But the numbers reveal their cases are much closer than you’d think.

Brown has Anunoby beat in points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage, and offensive rating. Anunoby gets the better of Brown in steals, blocks, 3-point percentage, win shares, box plus-minus, defensive rating, and VORP. It wouldn’t surprise me if Anunoby gets the Jayson Tatum assignment on defense, but it would be fun to watch O.G. shut down Jaylen.

Prediction

Boston will be playing their second game of a back-to-back after pulling out a hard-fought win in Brooklyn. The rest advantage would normally be good news for the Raptors if the Celtics weren’t 4-0 on zero days of rest. Marcus Smart missed Sunday’s game with a hip contusion. Whether he misses this game or plays at less than 100%, Toronto will take any break they can get. If we’re going to continue nitpicking for possible advantages, Boston’s worst day of the week is Mondays (3-2).

In Boston’s loss to Miami over the weekend, the Celtics turned the ball over 20 times. Over their last 6 meetings with Boston, the Raptors have won the two games where they generated at least 10 steals and lost the other four where they had single digits in steals.

Can you tell I’m trying to make ‘fetch’ happen? It’s one thing to have Anunoby slow down or shut out Tatum — a tall task on its own. But Toronto’s scramble-and-recover defense is going to have a long night flying out to Boston’s plethora of three-point gunners. The Celtics prevail over the Raptors 113-105.

December 7 vs Los Angeles Lakers

What a week for Raptors ticket holders. Of the 76 NBA/ABA champions, 34 of those will be passing through the Scotiabank Arena doors with the Celtics and Lakers (17 titles apiece) visiting the Raptors.

While Boston is favoured to add to their title haul, the Lakers have been scraping to get back from a 2-10 start to the season.

The Lakers are 8-2 in their last 10 games — and possibly better if not for Andrew Nembhard. Anthony Davis has been on an absolute tear of late, averaging 32 points and 15 rebounds during that stretch and totaling 99 points over the first two games of their current six-game road trip.

There are 21 players averaging at least 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists (Pascal Siakam is one of them). However, Russell Westbrook is the only player on the list that’s not a starter! I will also refrain from making jokes about his 31% shooting from beyond the arc because it’s still higher than Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, and Thaddeus Young.

Thank you, Lonnie Walker. You might be the fantasy basketball waiver wire pickup of the year!

Fun fact that may only interest me

I’ve got my skeptical eyes on you, Los Angeles!

Their current run of wins may have saved their season but take a closer look at their opposition. Four of their eight wins came against the two worst defenses in the NBA in Detroit and San Antonio. Portland is another bottom-10 defense. Washington and Brooklyn don’t exactly scream shut-down defense.

In fact, the Lakers have gotten six of their 10 wins against bottom-10 defenses and are 2-4 against top-10 defenses.

Totally unrelated: Toronto’s defense currently ranks 8th.

Prediction

The Lakers come to town on the second game of a back-to-back after playing in Cleveland. They’re 3-6 on the road and in the middle of their longest road trip (6 games) of the season. Anunoby will likely get the Lebron James assignment while the rest of the team will take turns doubling Davis. That strategy should prove effective because, unlike Boston, there aren’t many shooters that can hurt Toronto.

Toronto’s five-game winning streak over the Lakers at Scotiabank Arena was snapped in the last meeting when Westbrook hit an unlikely three to force overtime. The Raptors exact some revenge and pull out a 114-101 victory.

December 9 & 11 @ Orlando Magic

No, this is not a repeat from the last week’s Rap-Up — the Raptors end the week with games (plural) against the Magic. Although, a weekend in Orlando is definitely nicer than a dreary December Sunday in Toronto.

Around this time next year, the Magic can roll out an all-tall lineup with Mo Bamba (7’0), Paolo Banchero (6’10), and Wendell Carter Jr. (6’10) in the frontcourt accompanied by a backcourt of Bol Bol (7’2) and Victor Wembanyama (7’3).

If Orlando “only” lands the second pick, they can go with an all-small lineup of Cole Anthony (6’2), Scoot Henderson (6’3), Markelle Fultz (6’3), Chuma Okeke (6’6), and Franz Wagner (6’9).

Shoutout to former RaptorsHQ Contributor and current Scottie Barnes score-keeper, Chris Walder, who is currently in Orlando getting married!

Fun fact that may only interest me

I was going to do a comparison of Orlando’s #1 overall pick, Paolo Banchero’s first 17 games to the Magic’s first-ever #1 overall pick, Shaquille O’Neal. In all honesty, there is no comparison to Shaq.

Banchero has had three games with at least 12 rebounds. Over his first 17 games, the Big Aristotle had 13 such games.

Banchero’s accumulated three double-doubles so far. O’Neal had double-doubles in all but one of his first 17 games.

This last one is mind-blowing. Banchero has had one game with three blocks. O’Neal had at least three blocks in each of the first 23 games of his NBA career!

Prediction

Orlando is one of two teams (along with Detroit) who have had multiple double-headers... and lost both games. Two weeks ago, the Magic lost both games in Indiana then went home and lost another mini-series against the visiting Sixers.

The Raptors breezed by the Magic on Saturday and I expect them to do the same in Florida. Toronto beats Orlando 123-102 (their first Friday victory in six tries this season), then completes the doubleheader sweep with a 108-106 win.

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Last Week: 2-2

Season Record for Predictions: 15-8

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