Live from the 6ix, it’s Season #6 of The Rap-Up! You know what they say: if ain’t broke, don’t six it!
You’d figure after 400+ posts and 6 seasons of writing this weekly column, I could come up with a better, less-dad-jokey opening line! Well, dear reader, just like everyone’s assumptions about the Toronto Raptors this season: you are wrong! Not only will I bring in even more corny lines, but I may actually finish a sentence without an exclamation point! Not that one, but this one.
For my own sanity — and to get a little cocky — here’s how my predictions have fared over the years.
2018 (post-All-Star break)
Predictions record: 15-5
Actual Raptors record: 14-6
Predictions record: 57-25
Actual Raptors record: 58-24
Predictions record: 50-22
Actual Raptors record: 53-19
Predictions record: 37-35
Actual Raptors record: 27-45
Predictions record: 49-33
Actual Raptors record: 48-34
Predictions record: 50-32
Actual Raptors record: 41-41
It’s been difficult predicting Raptors games during the Nick Nurse era. Would he introduce another mad scientist-like defensive scheme? Will there be any load management? How injured are injured players? Now imagine predicting the outcome of a Saturday game when you’re submitting picks the previous Sunday night!
In any case, I’m fairly happy with how I’ve performed over the years. If you want to use my record as an indicator of the Raptors’ success, go with this: Toronto performs better than my predictions in seasons where they’re a championship contender!
Alright, enough of this tomfoolery. Let’s kick off another season of The Rap-Up! (That’s two more exclamation points for those keeping track)
October 25 vs Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota didn’t do much in the off-season. To be fair, there isn’t anything to do on draft night in June when you trade away (seemingly) all your first-round picks the previous July for a player who is currently not your best or second-best player. The Timberwolves also couldn’t do much during free agency since over $100 million is currently tied to three players NOT named Anthony Edwards!
I can see why, at the time, acquiring Rudy Gobert to anchor the defense behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Edwards could have raised Minnesota’s chances of improving on their 7th-place finish the previous season. Hindsight is 20/20 but Timberwolves fans have probably lost many hours of sleep wondering what Walker Kessler, first-round picks, plus a ton of disposable salary dollars could have done for this franchise instead of getting Gobert.
For now, the starters are set with veteran, Mike Conley, and defensive stalwart, Jaden McDaniels (not to be confused but surely will be with older brother, Jalen McDaniels) joining Edwards, KAT, and Gobert. The reserves are led by Kyle Anderson, Naz Reid, and future Olympic gold medalist, Nickeil-Alexander Walker.
Year 4 of the Anthony Edwards experience is going to be insanely fun. pic.twitter.com/bYVC0DM2ww— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) October 20, 2023
Fun fact that may only interest me
Correction: Minnesota did take part in draft night. They traded two future second-round picks (because they didn’t have any more firsts to trade away?) in exchange for Canadian, Leonard Miller.
Miller was born and raised in Scarborough. I was born and raised in Scarborough.
Miller led Thornlea Secondary School to the National Junior Circuit title. My kids go to school down the street from Thornlea.
Miller did not receive any college scholarship offers after graduating from high school. OMG we are basically twins!
The NBA continues a time-honoured tradition of not giving the Raptors a Christmas Day game in exchange for a home opener against a beatable opponent. Toronto has obliged by winning 8 of their last 10 home openers, including last year when they triumphed over the Cavaliers.
Minnesota has lost their last TWENTY visits to Scotiabank Arena. The last time the Timberwolves won in Toronto, it was still called the Air Canada Centre, the Raptors’ leading scorer was Donyell Marshall, and the aforementioned Leonard Miller was less than 2 months old!
Let’s not get too cute with this. Toronto kicks off the new season with another win over the visiting Timberwolves, 120-109.
October 27 @ Chicago Bulls
Good news: Darko Rajakovic’s defensive strategy is to switch less, which means O.G. Anunoby will essentially render one of Zach Lavine or DeMar DeRozan useless for the evening.
Bad news: It’s a Friday night, which means Diar DeRozan does not have school tomorrow.
Alright, there you go. We got the Diar mention out of the way. Can we get back to analyzing the Bulls that affect games ON the court?
Similar to the Timberwolves, the Bulls did not have any draft picks due to hilarious mismanagement by their front office. In Chicago’s case, they traded away their 2023 first-round pick (who later became Jett Howard....thank you Orlando for giving us Gradey Dick) along with their 2021 first-rounder (who became Franz Wagner....insert grimace face emoji), Wendell Carter Jr......and Otto Porter Jr. The Bulls didn’t have a second-round pick because that was forfeited after violating the league’s tampering rules (for Lonzo Ball, who may no longer play professional basketball).
Fun fact that may only interest me
Only 3 players in NBA history started fewer games (36) than Alex Caruso while being awarded 1st team All-Defense honours: Dennis Rodman, Michael Cooper, and Bobby Jones.
Only 2 players in NBA history played fewer total minutes (1,575) than Caruso while being awarded 1st team All-Defense honours: Rodman and Tony Allen. It was Rodman’s 7th All-Defense recognition when he only played 1,568 minutes. Allen’s recognition came during the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season.
Only 1 player in NBA history played as few as 23.5 minutes per game like Caruso while being awarded 1st team All-Defense honours: Bobby Jones
The top 10 perimeter players in Defensive Playmaking last season— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) October 24, 2023
1. Alex Caruso
2. Delon Wright
3. Matisse Thybulle
4. De'Anthony Melton
5. Herbert Jones
6. Jalen Suggs
7. OG Anunoby
8. Fred VanVleet
9. Josh Okogie
10. Jordan Goodwin
️2023 regular season / 1000 minute min
Chicago ranked 5th in Defensive Rating last season and bring back all of their top-8 players (based on Defensive Win Shares). The addition of Jevon Carter is yet another solid defender who will give Toronto fits. The Raptors have lost their last 5 visits to Chicago and have failed to reach triple digits in three of those games.
If there’s one area the Raptors can hurt the Bulls, it’s beyond the arc. Chicago ranked 29th in opponent’s threes and opponent’s threes attempted. That’s a tall task for a Toronto team that’s only hit 25% (15-of-60) from three over their last two visits to the United Center.
Diar DeRozan’s screams won’t be necessary (there will be 20,500+ joining her) as this game already has a bit of looking-ahead-too-early potential for the Raptors. It’s the first game of a back-to-back with Nick Nurse’s return awaiting them in Toronto the next night. The Bulls tame the Raptors, 111-100.
October 28 vs Philadelphia 76ers
The NBA didn’t wait long to give us this juicy reunion between Nick Nurse and his old team. In fact.....oh, hold on a second, Patrick Beverley would like a word.
You almost have to admire (keyword: almost) Patrick Beverley sometimes. On or off the court, he’ll try to get under your skin. “Mr. 94 Feet” gave the Raptors some chalkboard material for Saturday’s big matchup.
Beverley can say all he wants, but the fact of the matter is that nothing will interfere with the bigger story line....oh, James, did you have something you wanted to get off your chest?
James Harden on his China tour: “Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of. Let me say that again. Daryl Morey is a liar and I will never be a part of an organization that he’s a part of.” pic.twitter.com/oaqVjXkax6— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) August 14, 2023
The staring competition between James Harden and Daryl Morey is riveting to witness. While other disgruntled stars hide behind their agents or fake injuries, Harden is out here trying to one-up his fat suit with excessive pouting that would make any 3-year-old proud. Harden is not expected to play in Philly’s season opener and who knows if he’ll be with the team when they come to town.
Speaking of Toronto, the reception for Nurse should be.....wait, what is it, Keith?
The New York Knicks are willing to offer a package that includes three key players, with Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, Evan Fournier and Mitchell Robinson all available in exchange for Joel Embiid, according to sources. A trio from that group would be paired with two or three…— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) October 24, 2023
I......don’t know how Sixers fans handle this.
Fun fact that may only interest me
The Philadephia 76ers, whose greatest player in franchise history is arguably Julius (Dr. J) Erving, has employed the following as Head Coaches: (Dr.) Jack Ramsay, Doc Rivers, and Nick Nurse.
I think they have a type.
The last time the Sixers came to town was exactly one year ago. In that game, Philadelphia was without Embiid, yet still had no issues blowing out the Raptors by 22 points, thanks to a career-best game from Tyrese Maxey (44 points on 15-for-20 shooting). If Harden doesn’t suit up for Philly, I genuinely wonder if Rajakovic will have Anunoby guard Maxey. Dennis Schroder is very quick but got blown by a couple of times in the Preseason by players not as speedy as Maxey.
If there’s a coach in the league that should know how to exploit Toronto’s weaknesses, it would have to be Nick Nurse. If there’s a coach in the league that should know how to overcome Toronto’s weaknesses, it would have to be Darko Rajakovic. The chess match between the Raptors’ past and future will be on full display.
The attention will be on Scottie Barnes because of how well he’s performed against the Sixers in their last meeting (29 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals), as well as being motivated to show up his old coach. However, pay close attention to Jakob Poeltl. Matching up with Embiid is exactly the reason why Toronto re-acquired the Austrian big man. Very few players in the NBA can handle the physicality of the reigning MVP, but thankfully for Toronto, Poeltl is one of them.
With no Harden (presumably), Embiid held in check, and an energetic home crowd (welcome back, vibes!) itching for a win over Nurse, Toronto edges out Philadelphia, 108-107.