If I can be completely brutally honest for just one second, the Toronto Raptors have become extremely difficult to watch. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this as someone covering the team, but I think it’s more important that I share my truthful opinion with no filter. Well... maybe a slight filter.
It’s one thing to watch your team compete for lottery balls when you come into the season expecting low win totals, or when you have exciting young talent that is promising, but can’t pull out wins.
Aside from Scottie Barnes, neither of those are true. Gary Trent Jr. may also fit into this category only being 23 years old, but players like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are reaching their upper 20’s. They are in win now mode, and this team simply is not.
Where to watch?
TSN, 3:30 pm ET
Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Portland Trail Blazers — Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic
Toronto Raptors — Otto Porter Jr. (Out - Foot)
Portland Trail Blazers — Nassir Little (Out - Head), Ibou Badji (Out - Not With Team), Jusuf Nurkic (Probable - Non-Covid Illness), Gary Payton II (Probable - Ankle), Justise Winslow (Out - Ankle)
The over-under for the Raptors’ win total heading into the season was 47.5. A total which analysts, fans and almost anyone with a voice was absolutely hammering. I had my skepticism with this team’s ability to compete in the playoffs, but I too was expecting another solid regular season.
Currently the Raptors are on pace for about 33-34 wins on the season. Am I upset? No, I’m honestly kind of over it and am at the point of hoping for a top five pick. Sorry for admitting that so bluntly.
The team they are playing today is the opposite story. The Portland Trail Blazers came into the season with an over/under win total of 39.5. They aren’t necessarily on pace to demolish that, but they currently sit at 19-19, on pace for a 41-41 record.
At the start of the season, the Blazers were on an absolute tear and looked to be one of the best teams in the Western Conference. They started off 10-4 and Damian Lillard looked to be competing for his first ever MVP.
Since then, the Blazers have regressed to the means a bit, and find themselves sitting in the play-in. Which to be fair, would be a solid outcome this season, aside from the team seemingly being “all in.”
One area of question heading into the year for Portland was their bench. Not a ton of household names, and mainly young guys or players who haven’t been able to find their home in the league.
Their starting lineup has been fantastic for them, and they could quite honestly have two all stars in Lillard and Jerami Grant. The bench though, which consists of rookie, Shaedon Sharpe, Justise Winslow, Drew Eubanks, and now back from injury, Gary Payton II has been another reason for this team’s success.
As for the Raptors, the bench is an area where they’ve certainly struggled. First of all, because they haven’t had a consistent bench in order to determine who is their bench and who is their starters. But even when the team sits at a majority of full health, the bench hasn’t provided much production for the Raptors.
The highest scorer on the Raptors’ bench this season has been Chris Boucher, averaging 9.8 points per game. That point average alone isn’t terrible, but when you pair it with 45/26/76 shooting splits, and a -0.3 average plus/minus on the season, you begin to see the lack of impact that the bench has provided.
If I’m being completely fair and transparent, the statistics for most of the players’ on Portland’s bench isn’t much better, if better at all, but thankfully we have the eye test. And my eye test shows me that the Raptors bench has been much worse.
Have their starters been great either? No. But for the most part this season, you have received All-NBA level production from Siakam, close to all star level production from OG Anunoby, and now six games in a row with 20+ points from Trent Jr. Performances that are looking to command a pay day potentially at the end of this season.
My attention today will be solely on the bench. Why today specifically? Because sometimes you just have to watch for specific things this season to keep it interesting.
Malachi Flynn hit the ground running when he got his shot, but has since tailed off going scoreless in his past four outings. Boucher is putting up his lowest stat totals across the board in his last three seasons since entering the rotation as a regular. Precious Achiuwa and Otto Porter Jr. have been hurt for the majority of the season. Christian Koloko, despite showing some promising moments as a rookie is still almost averaging as many fouls as points (2.6 fouls per game & 3.8 points per game). Thaddeus Young has been fine, but has only played 12 total minutes in the Raptors’ last three games.
I don’t need to dive into everyone, but it is difficult to find the positive when it comes to the Raptors’ reserves. So let’s see if on January 8, 2023, the Raptors bench can provide them some help, and break this three game losing streak.
This is the final game of Toronto’s mid-season “gauntlet.” It is their 13th game in a row against an opponent who either currently sits in the playoffs or play-in. Their record during this span has been 3-9, and the two games before that were the back-to-back losses to the Orlando Magic.
Maybe the Raptors can end this stretch on their schedule with an afternoon win. Or maybe they can keep trending towards Victor Wembanyama.