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Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets

The Rap-Up: Misery loves company

Believe it or not, the Raptors can still salvage this six-game homestand as a pair of underachieving teams come to town.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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Welcome to Underachievers Week!

When comparing pre-season net rating versus current net rating, three of the four worst underachievers make up this week’s games at Scotiabank Arena!

If you listened to our pre-season predictions podcast, you would have heard my hesitation on the Atlanta Hawks’ outlook after acquiring Dejounte Murray. I thought at the time that losing Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Huerter’s shooting would negate the defensive upside and secondary ballhandling gained with Murray. That has mostly come true as Atlanta’s offense has plummeted from #2 to #22 this year.

Charlotte’s underachieving was also foreseeable. They squeezed into the final play-in spot last season and bowed out four quarters later. Their top scorer, Miles Bridges, was charged with domestic violence and is currently out of the NBA. One of their key reserves, Montrezl Harrell, signed with Philadelphia. Despite losing those two, and having one of the lowest payrolls in the league, the Hornets did nothing to bolster the roster.

The Raptors may be going through “it” right now, but it’s hard to argue Toronto has had it worse than the fans in Charlotte and Atlanta.

January 10 & 12 vs Charlotte Hornets

Just before the Christmas break, James Plowright, of Sports Illustrated, reached out to me to talk about mock trades between the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors. The Hornets have the worst offense and the fifth-worst defense so, naturally, he had his eyes on one of the best 3-and-D players in the league, O.G. Anunoby.

Between Charlotte’s bevy of uninspiring players, James’ reluctance to part with LaMelo Ball, and a hard pass on giving up the Hornets’ coveted first-round pick this year, we could not strike a deal.

I imagine the thought process behind parting with Anunoby would be similar to the Raptors' front office: get a superstar to help this season or get good draft picks (either in quantity or quality) and start (continue?) the tank.

If you haven’t clicked the link, my final offer was:

  • Hornets get Anunoby and Thad Young
  • Raptors get Gordon Hayward, JT Thor, 2023 first (unprotected), 2025 first (lottery protected), and 2027 first (lottery protected)

On the surface, an Anunoby-for-Hayward trade would cause the collective fanbase to faint. But the inclusion of an unprotected first-rounder in this year’s draft changes the outlook dramatically. It would signal Toronto’s intentions to bottom out and hope for some lottery luck again. The talent nosedive from Anunoby to Hayward would help greatly in that regard. Having two(!) lottery picks in the bottom five could give the Raptors the ultimate reset with one (or two!!) of Victor Wembanyama/Scoot Henderson as the franchise saviour(s).

Alas, it was a miscommunication on James’ part as the ‘23 pick was never on the table.

Now I will wash away the dirt from even thinking about trading O.G.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Over the previous three seasons, the outcome of the season series between these teams has ended in the exact same fashion:

  • 2019-20: Raptors win the first two games while the Hornets win the final matchup
  • 2020-21: Raptors win the first two games while the Hornets win the final matchup
  • 2021-22: Raptors win the first two games while the Hornets win the final matchup

Prediction

The Hornets have the worst eFG%, second-worst FG%, and second-worst 3-point FG%. How bad is their 3-point shooting? Do you know Fred VanVleet’s much-maligned career-worst 32.5% shooting from beyond the arc? That would rank 2nd on the Hornets!

Kelly Oubre Jr. was recently lost to a torn ligament in his left hand and will miss the next 4-6 weeks. Losing your 3rd leading scorer for an extended amount of time while also having the NBA’s worst record can only mean one thing: full-on tank mode!

Charlotte won’t make it easy though. Between Mason Plumlee, Nick Richards, and Mark Williams, the Hornets will be busy on the offensive glass. Each has a higher offensive rebounding percentage than any Raptor. Charlotte also sports the #2 transition defense.

Believe it or not, Toronto can still salvage this six-game homestand (and their season) by sweeping the remaining three games. It says here they’ll at least sweep the Hornets doubleheader! The Raptors prevail twice over the visiting Hornets, 122-108 and 109-107.

January 14 vs Atlanta Hawks

Since Landry Fields — yes, THAT Landry Fields — took over as General Manager in June, the Hawks have made the following transactions:

  • Traded Danilo Gallinari and four first-rounders to San Antonio for Murray
  • Traded Huerter to Sacramento for Justin Holiday, a ‘24 first-rounder, and Mo Harkless (who was later traded to OKC for Vit Krecji)

Let’s quickly remove the 6 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists that Holiday and Krecji have provided. The Hawks gave up much more than just draft capital. They traded away more than the 23.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.9 threes that Gallo and Huerter provided last season for 20.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.9 threes from Murray this season. Atlanta traded away a lot of offense for a little more defense.

Granted, Murray has been a difference-maker on the defensive end. His steals and deflection numbers aren’t as high as last season, but he still ranks in the top 10 in both categories. Atlanta’s 3-point defense has improved from last year’s bottom-5 ranking back to top-5 efficiency — with similar percentages to what they produced two seasons ago when they made the Eastern Conference Finals.

However, the sacrifice of two shooters has hurt Atlanta’s ability to make defenses pay for doubling Trae Young or Murray. The Hawks were #1 in corner three accuracy and #3 in accuracy for all threes. This year, they’re dead last and 28th, respectively.

Between Nate McMillan’s coaching status, Young’s summer plans, and Atlanta’s cap situation (DeAndre Hunter’s extension kicks in next season, essentially locking the Hawks into the current roster until the 2024-25 season), the pressure to turn things around is immense with the Hawks.

Fun fact that may only interest me

One of Atlanta’s Assistant Coaches was one of my favourite players to watch from the mid-90’s: Nick Van Exel

While looking through his playing stats and reading through some of his career highlights, I stumbled across an eye-opening story about how Nick the Quick collected 23 assists in a game. The article wasn’t really about Van Exel, though, it was about how the scorekeeper subjectively boosted those numbers and how a lot of his colleagues throughout the league were doing the same.

I assure you this is worth the read (even if it’s from 2009 and likely not happening anymore).

Prediction

The Hawks will be on the second game of a back-to-back after visiting the Pacers in Indiana. It’ll also be their third game in four nights after hosting the Bucks. Atlanta has lost five of their last seven games — giving up at least 129 points in four of those losses.

Toronto has won each of the last seven games at Scotiabank Arena when the Hawks come to town (six of them by double digits).

When these teams faced off in mid-November, the Raptors were without Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Pascal Siakam, and Gary Trent Jr... and still almost pulled off the road upset. (Let’s not discuss how that ended)

The Raptors complete a much-needed sweep of this week’s games with a 125-118 victory over the Hawks.

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Last Week: 2-2

Season Record for Predictions: 23-17

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