It’s truly crunch time for the Toronto Raptors. With the trade deadline looming just three weeks away, if they don’t go on a run soon, we could potentially see some of this core shipped off in an attempt to retool or rebuild.
The front office was clear when they stated that they would hold out on making trades until right at the deadline. They wanted to make sure that it was clear which direction this team was heading in, before they made such a big decision.
After a three game win streak (their longest on the season), it looked like Toronto could potentially be ready to turn it around. Albeit, it came against some weak competition, but multiple wins in a row has been a rarity this season, no matter the competition.
A couple brutal losses later, and we’re back where we started. Out of the play-in, and losing to opponents that we truthfully shouldn’t. Last game it was at the hands to a starless Milwaukee Bucks team, and tonight they will try their hands against a Minnesota Timberwolves team in a similar situation.
Where to watch:
Sportsnet, 8:00 PM ET
Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr,. OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Minnesota Timberwolves — D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Kyle Anderson, Naz Reid
Toronto Raptors — Otto Porter Jr. (Out - Foot), Dalano Banton (Questionable - Hip)
Minnesota Timberwolves — Karl-Anthony Towns (Out - Calf), Rudy Gobert (Out - Groin), Austin Rivers (Out - Knee), Jordan McLaughlin (Out - Calf)
After their surprise success last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves were not shy about going all in this past off season. Trading away nearly every ounce of young talent and future young talent for Rudy Gobert, they wanted to build something that we haven’t really seen since the early 2000’s.
I never thought that a team with two prodding centers would work. They had all the tools offensively, since Karl-Anthony Towns is an absolute wizard on that end of the floor, but it would be difficult to have him guard on the perimeter as Gobert protected the rim.
That was proven true early on, but they also never received the chance to work out the kinks, at Towns went out with his calf injury, and tonight will miss his 25th straight contest.
Rudy Gobert has not had a Rudy Gobert season, but has also had multiple stretches where he was in and out of the lineup, including one right now. But, if the Raptors struggled to outplay the Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, what makes us think they can handle this Minnesota team?
Will the lack of depth be an issue again?
There have been specific games where it has looked like the Raptors’ bench has come alive and could potentially be turning the corner. Those are few and far between, and really don’t last very long.
Last game, Nick Nurse only suited up eight guys, and quite honestly, with Juancho Hernangomez only playing seven minutes, you could argue that the rotation was seven.
Sure, that can last you a playoff series, and maybe if you’re lucky, a playoff run. That however, is no way to win in the regular season. An 82 game season is long and gruelling, and you need over 10 guys who are capable of contributing.
The lowest played starter was OG Anunoby at 34 minutes, who had a brutal game. If Nurse can’t look down his bench and trust someone to play over a guy who shot 2/13, then there is a problem.
Multiple starters played 40+ minutes last game, and usually that would mean that you’re in a tight battle against a good opponent. If you were to box score surf over the game, it wouldn’t look too bad. A stereotypical Raptors’ third quarter took them right out of it, and this eight point loss was a bigger gap in reality than on the scoresheet.
The defense is an issue, but why?
I have not been shy to go in on the Raptors’ defense this season. I won’t ream them out in depth again, but I have a potential theory on why their defense could look so poor.
I feel like we’ve seen multiple games where the start of the contest looks like a real competitive competition. The Toronto Raptors in the past few seasons have built their identity off competing on the defensive end, and really getting into the opponent making life difficult for them.
We also have seen many games where the defense is weak off the get-go, so this theory is certainly not 100% of the reason for their poor performance on that end, but it could definitely play into it.
It all goes back to my previous point on depth. For starters, the Raptors don’t have a bench that competes hard on the defensive end. Chris Boucher is a good shot blocker, and Precious Achiuwa, who has all the tools has missed the majority of the season. Aside from that, their depth struggles on the defensive end. Not a commonality for a Raptors roster whatsoever.
But you may ask: “Why then, did we struggle so much defensively last game when those guys barely say the court?” That is exactly the point that I am getting at. They barely saw the court, leaving the starters gasping for air every trip down.
Especially against a Bucks team that is strong on the defensive end. The Raptors had to battle for every open shot and every bucket. Fred VanVleet had a fantastic game, but very few of his buckets came easy.
When your starters are all playing 35+ minutes, without an easy, go-to offensive creator, they’re going to be tired. Over the course of an entire game, they are going to ware down, and allow blow-by’s and struggle to close out fully on shooters. Resulting in 19 made threes on 49% from the opponent.
Toronto desperately needs their bench to step up. Not only so they can get good reserve minutes, but so the starters can get proper rest to compete when they’re on the floor.
Like I said earlier, if Toronto is going to turn their season around and keep this core for one last push, it has to start soon, like very soon, preferably tonight. They certainly have a good chance facing another team down two all stars, as they finish up their mini three game road trip tonight.