The Toronto Raptors are streaking into the All-Star break.
With only three games to go before All-Star Weekend, the Raptors are currently winners of eight in a row, and currently eight games above .500. Denver poses a significant threat to break that streak, but Toronto hasn’t lost a home game since January 23rd against Portland, and are 10-2 at Scotiabank in the New Year. Denver on the other hand are losers of three straight on the road, and come off a nail-biter loss in Boston just last night, where they also lost starting guard Monte Morris to a concussion. May the scales forever tip in Toronto’s favor.
Fred VanVleet should return tonight after being a late scratch on Thursday against Houston — the SEGABABA against a horrific team — as it appears load management season is starting to wake up from its winter slumber. With Toronto firmly in the playoff race, Nick Nurse now has a new face in town to run a little pseudo bench point-guard action in Thaddeus Young, a player that’s been mentioned in Toronto Raptors rumors since the dawn of time, to help reduce the All-Star’s minutes total.
Young brings a sexy blend of vision, experience, toughness and shot making ability off the bench, and has become an incredible offensive rebounder to boot (11.2 OREB percentage). What’s not to like? Well, the draft pick has been the biggest gripe — but with Toronto now almost a lock to make the playoffs, that pick will transfer, and, for all intents and purposes, we drop about 10 spots in the draft. Big deal.
Where to Watch:
TSN, 7:30 p.m.
Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam
Denver — Austin Rivers, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, Nikola Jokic
Toronto — Fred VanVleet (day-to-day)
Denver — Monte Morris (concussion protocol — OUT), Jamal Murray (OUT), Michael Porter Jr. (OUT)
Size Doesn’t Matter
Wherein Toronto management has doubled down on the “you must be at least this tall and no taller than” rule in order to get into the Raptors amusement park, Denver has doubled down on the “you must be at least this tall and preferably bigger” rule. Austin Rivers will likely start in place of the injured Monte Morris, and while Rivers is listed as a generous 6-foot-4, the rest of the lineup runs bigger than average. Nikola Jokic is one of the most prolific producers of any stat in NBA history, shocking when you consider NBA history includes: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and LeBron James.
Toronto will have its hands full tonight and will need that total team effort we’re used to seeing not only on the offensive glass, but the defensive glass too. Aaron Gordon has transformed into the league’s premier energy big man, reinvigorated after actually playing with NBA players. He’s a threat on the offensive glass, and can usually be spotted flying to the basket on quick hand offs or no look bounce passes from the team’s mammoth point guard, Jokic. Luckily, Fred won’t be asked to pull that assignment on defense (though something tells me even if he was asked, he’d find a way to make it his advantage).
Thaddeus Young: a RHQ background
Thad Young, as was mentioned, has been the centre of Raptors rumors since approximately 64 BC. Hell, even that’s a rumor.
Seriously, however, Young kind of brings exactly what Toronto needs in my view. We dealt a first rounder for him (let’s face it — that’s all we dealt) and given the youth already on the team, that first rounder is better as non-guaranteed salary anyway in the form of the Detroit second rounder. So, what does he provide this roster for the final stretch?
His passing has always been a strong suit. Before the days of Chicago and again this season in San Antonio utilizing his vision, Young was rarely a mid-point in the play. He was more often than not a high usage player (we’re talking, say, over 20 percent usage rate) that put up buckets and grabbed rebounds. Chicago unlocked that vision, and San Antonio doubled down. I expect Nurse to slowly slide him into a similar role.
Defense first, and always
Oh yeah, and defense. We gotta talk defense baby. Fun fact: Young has never posted a negative defensive win share season. Ever. In 16 years. Even on some of the worst teams the league has seen this century, Young has always been a plus defender, never once mailing it in. The term consummate professional was created for Thad Young. What Toronto got, in fact, is another Marc Gasol.
Let’s face it — the reason people are feeling like Thaddeus Young isn’t what the team needs is exactly why Thaddeus Young deserves to be on not only a playoff team, but this playoff team. He’s humble, he’s hardworking, and he’s a winner. Toronto didn’t need flash, or pomp, or glass cannons. They needed one extra body Nurse could trust in case one of the starters got in foul trouble, injured, or needed a breather. They got the perfect candidate.