If you didn’t think the Toronto Raptors’ current road trip had trade deadline implications, look no further than the fact that Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri are with the team.
masai & bobby last night vs masai & bobby tonight pic.twitter.com/7MtYGyl1ml— alex (@steven_lebron) January 29, 2023
Imagine spending two weeks in the warm climate of the west coast, all expenses paid, and getting to sit courtside to watch basketball games! Look at the joy on those faces!
The entire NBA has the Raptors under a microscope right now. Every loss adds to the belief that Toronto will be sellers at the trade deadline (or earlier). Every win doubles as losses — both for the pro-tanking community and the vultures waiting to attack fallen Raptors.
There’s a ton of pressure heaped on Masai and Bobby to do something. Anything. Every day that passes is a day closer to some sort of change. For now, the team will use this time to bond because what else can you do on a long road trip but spend time with your teammates (especially while they’re still your teammates).
More than any time before, this week’s predictions are highly depending on the team’s current structure. They’ll obviously change dramatically (likely negatively) if any trades occur.
January 30 @ Phoenix Suns
Since losing Devin Booker to a groin injury on Christmas day, the Suns have a 7-11 record (that’s wins and losses, not the place where you get Slushies). One of those 11 losses came in Toronto, of course.
If Booker’s impact wasn’t already obvious to Phoenix’s success, check out their offensive efficiency over the last 10 games.
The Efficiency Landscape. What Jumps Out? pic.twitter.com/0mlHyRYXNN— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) January 27, 2023
The Suns have won five of their last six but four of those victories have come against a mixture of bound for the lottery (Hornets and Spurs) or teams missing stars (Nets - Kevin Durant; Pacers - Tyrese Haliburton). Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet will also be out, so Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. will be dueling with Chris Paul and Two Lees (Saben and Damion).
Fun fact that may only interest me
The Suns coaching staff is littered with ties to the Raptors organization. Patrick Mutombo was part of Nick Nurse’s championship-winning staff. He was also the Head Coach of the 905 and played a major role in the Raptors’ best development stories: Pascal Siakam, Norm Powell, Gary Payton II, and Chris Boucher. Former Raptor, Jarrett Jack, also sits on Monty Williams’ staff. Jack is one of a handful of players in NBA history to play more than 82 games in a season. When he was traded by Toronto to New Orleans during the season, Jack ended up playing 83 games because of where each team was at in their respective schedules.
The most note-worthy Suns Assistant who has a history with the Raptors is none other than Michael Ruffin.
After falling short in the NBA Finals two seasons ago, Phoenix looked like they were ready to take the reins from Golden State as the West’s best. They finished with the best record last year, but then everything fell apart after blowing a 3-2 series lead to Dallas. This season started off well (15-6 at the end of November), but they’ve fallen off the tracks since Devin Booker went down with his groin injury. He should be re-evaluated this week. As mentioned above, Booker took the Suns offense with him.
Phoenix is bottom-10 in protecting the offensive glass and send opponents to the charity stripe more than all but one team. With Precious Achiuwa and Pascal Siakam attacking the basket, and Chris Boucher flying in for offensive rebounds, the Raptors are well-suited to take advantage of the short-handed Suns. Toronto steals a road win in Phoenix, topping the Suns, 116-114.
February 1 @ Utah Jazz
When the Raptors off-loaded Goran Dragic to the Spurs last season for Thad Young, they also swapped picks with San Antonio. While the front office may have still drafted Christan Koloko 12 picks earlier, I do wonder what would have happened if the Raptors stayed at #20 because ** revisionist history alert ** Walker Kessler was still available.
Kessler has more win shares than Koloko. He has more win shares than Bennedict Mathurin and Keegan Murray. Kessler even has more win shares than Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Paolo Banchero. That’s right, Walker Kessler leads all rookies in win shares (plus VORP and BPM)!
Since being inserted into the starting lineup on January 10, Kessler has had a game with 7 blocks (against Banchero), a game with 21 rebounds (against Gobert, who left after 5 minutes), and another game with 5 blocks (to go along with a double-double in a win over Dallas).
Fun fact that may only interest me
Collin Sexton and Lauri Markannen were major pieces sent by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Donovan Mitchell trade.
Two years ago, Sexton led the Cavs in scoring with 24.3 points. So far in Utah, he’s averaging 14.3 points and sits third on the team in scoring.
Last year, Markkanen was fourth on the Cavs in scoring with 14.8 points. So far in Utah, he’s averaging 24.9 points and leads the team in scoring.
What a difference a change of scenery can make!
The Jazz are in the middle of a five-game homestand and enter this game with Toronto after having three(!) days of rest. Utah has played well in the last two weeks, winning four of six while fielding the 4th-best offense. Where the Jazz should thrive is beyond the arc. They rank 4th in threes taken and 2nd in percentage of corner threes made.
On the other hand, Utah ranks 23rd in turnover rate and 28th in opponents’ transition frequency. That’s normally a recipe for success for Toronto.
I find myself conflicted about who will win this matchup. Toronto hasn’t won in Utah since THAT game and, since we’re still in this never-ending pandemic, let’s stick with that trend. Utah defeats the visiting Raptors, 113-110.
February 3 @ Houston Rockets
The Rockets have won 3 of their last 23 games. What’s the French translation for, “do you prefer steak or ribs?”
This will be the first game after the All-Star reserves are announced. If Pascal Siakam is snubbed (he won’t), expect nothing less than a 50-point game (or expect this anyway).
Houston won’t have any representation this year, but maybe Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson can change that next year. For now, they can at least enjoy some representation at All-Star Weekend.
Future Slam Dunk Champion KJ Martin. pic.twitter.com/HAlCnSuaz3— The Tribal Commish (@SummitCommish) January 26, 2023
Fun fact that may only interest me
The Rockets have lost so many games this season that I was able to filter their games by margin of losses (MOL). The most common MOL was eight points (on five occasions), which makes perfect sense since they average 109.6 points while giving up 117.1 points — net difference of 7.5.
The second most common MOL was 20 points, which has happened on four occasions! Houston has yet to lose by 1 or 4. All other losing outcomes under 20 have occurred. Ouch.
The Rockets fly to Oklahoma City after the game for a date with the Thunder the following night. Stephen Silas might be generous with the bench minutes. Actually, that shouldn’t matter anyway....the Raptors are facing the worst team in the league who may be without their three best players. Kevin Porter Jr. has been out since January 13 with a left foot contusion. Jalen Green missed Sunday’s game with a calf injury. Alperen Sengun missed Sunday’s game with a non-Covid illness.
Sengun should have been the subject of the Fun Facts section, but his absence from Sunday’s game cost me in Fantasy, so I removed him as punishment.
Toronto does Houston a favour and hands them another loss, toppling the Rockets 122-109.
February 5 @ Memphis Grizzlies
Earlier this week, a Reddit post went viral when it was claimed the Grizzlies Scorekeeper was padding the blocks/steals stats of Jaren Jackson Jr. If you look at the home/road splits of any NBA player, you’ll likely find their stats are better at home.
Just as fun as a conspiracy theory is when Twitter debunks said theory!
I watched every block by Jaren Jackson Jr. in slow motion from alternate angles to investigate the NBA Reddit thread claiming the Grizzlies scorekeeper is "posting fraudulent numbers."— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) January 28, 2023
But only 3 of his 66 home blocks are incorrectly labeled, a completely insignificant amount. pic.twitter.com/84ZiE1rPVD
JJJ landed on his first All-Defense First Team last season after leading the league in blocks. He’s well on his way to landing there again this year, leading the league in blocks again (0.8 blocks more than last season). Jackson finished fifth last year in DPOY voting but should finish higher when this season wraps up. Memphis has the #1 defense since JJJ returned to the lineup (he missed the first 14 games of the season).
Fun fact that may only interest me
When Danny Green finally received his championship ring from the Raptors, little did he know that most of his playing time would be tied to his former team.
Shortly after getting his ring, he, of course, played in that game against Toronto. After playing the next two games to wrap up the regular season, he’d play six more against the Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. Following a second-round exit to the Heat, Green needed knee surgery for injuries sustained during that series.
Green was traded to Memphis in the offseason and has been recovering from that surgery. He’ll make his Grizzlies debut on February 1st against the Trailblazers and may also see floor time in Cleveland the next night.
So, if you’re keeping track, that’s 8 games against the Raptors, and 10 against anyone else! Imagine if one of those Green-to-Raptors rumours came true.
The Grizzlies have the best home record in the NBA at 21-3. They’ve won eight in a row at home (and lost five in a row on the road). Steven Adams and JJJ will essentially wall off anyone who dares enter the paint. Ja Morant will continue Toronto’s season-long trend of being unable to stop downhill point guards — Ja being the most downhill-iest of them all.
Despite an eventual loss here, finishing the dreaded West coast trip with an above .500 record is a borderline miracle, not only because of how this season has gone but because of how poorly the Raptors typically perform on this trip. The Grizzlies take this year’s Naismith Cup and defeat the visiting Raptors, 112-100.