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Utah Jazz v Toronto Raptors

The Rap-Up: Bring on the Rookies

Toronto takes on the cream of the 2023 draft crop while facing a pair of former coaches.

Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

What an emotional rollercoaster of a first week that was! How do you top a vibes-injecting win, a game where neither team won, and the return of Nick Nurse?

You top it with Scoot, Wemby, Nurse (again), and the return of Adrian Griffin!

Another way of looking at it: the Raptors’ week is highlighted by playing 3 high-profile rookies. Toronto doesn’t play on Halloween but the schedule that follows is spooky enough. The season-opening win over the Timberwolves seems like a lifetime ago after a pair of emotionally draining losses to the Bulls and Sixers.

If the Raptors can escape this week with more than two wins, it will be Toronto that will be languishing in all the treats. However, a sub-.500 week will make the Minnesota win feel like a trick.

October 30 vs Portland Trailblazers

Malcolm Brogdon had a choice.

During the 2022 offseason, with the Pacers heading towards a rebuild, Brogdon was informed that he could get traded to 1 of 2 destinations, “Toronto and Boston popped up. We had a choice to pursue — there wasn’t an offer on the table yet from either of them but the Pacers came to me and said we could pursue either of them and which one would I rather pursue? I choose Boston.”

The Celtics package was a pu pu platter centered around a young prospect (Aaron Nesmith), a serviceable big who helps match salaries (Daniel Theis), and a future first. Toronto could have offered a similar turd sandwich with a young prospect (Malachi Flynn*), a serviceable big who helps match salaries (Khem Birch), and a future first.**

*Remember, this was 2022. That’s 1 less season of Flynn failing to show he is an NBA player.

**I realize Birch and the first-rounder eventually became Jakob Poeltl but stay with me here.

Yes, Brogdon turned his one Boston season into a 6th Man of the Year award, but look at the big picture. He lost his starting job in Indiana to a young prospect (Tyrese Haliburton) and was traded. In Boston, he wasn’t started in favour of a younger guard (Derrick White) and was traded. Now in Portland, he’s coming off the bench behind a young prospect (Scoot Henderson).

When explaining why he chose Boston over Toronto, Brogdon said the Celtics were farther along than the Raptors. His assessment was correct (and hindsight’s 20/20), but what good is that info when you’re not on the team? In Toronto, Brogdon’s skill set would have been sorely needed last season (maybe a 6th Man of the Year award would still be in the cards) and would have taken over as the starting point guard after Fred VanVleet’s departure.

Fun fact that may only interest me

The 2018 NBA Draft may go down as one of the deepest classes in history, with names like Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Mikal Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Jalen Brunson. The Blazers now have 3 first-rounders from that class in their starting lineup: DeAndre Ayton (1), Anfernee Simons (24), and Robert Williams (27).

With all the names listed in the previous paragraph, it’s a bit of a shocker to note that the highest Win Shares per 48 minutes from the 2018 draft class belongs to Williams! He also ranks 2nd (to Doncic) in BPM, and 6th in VORP.


There’s no way any team can trade away a franchise cornerstone, who’s still in his prime, like Damian Lillard, and expect to be anything but a rebuilding team. Portland, however, did quite well for themselves. Replacing Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic for Brogdon, Williams, Ayton, and Matisse Thybulle (along with a little lottery luck in landing Henderson) fast-tracks the rebuilding process as the Blazers hand the keys over to Jerami Grant, Shaedon Sharpe, Simons, and Scoot.

Similar to Toronto, Portland will care less about winning and losing while focusing on developing its young core. The Blazers will be coming to town on the back end of a back-to-back after getting blown out 126-98 in Philadelphia.

Up until last season, the Blazers had the unique distinction of holding the longest win streak against the Raptors. Portland’s 5-game winning streak against Toronto came to an abrupt in early 2023 when the Raptors swept the season series. The winning should continue — even if Precious Achiuwa (doubtful; groin strain) and/or O.G. Anunoby (muscle cramps) miss the game — Portland doesn’t have an answer for Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam. The Raptors defeat the visiting Blazers, 114-105.

November 1 vs Milwaukee Bucks

The Adrian Griffin era kicked off in a successful fashion as the Bucks eked out a 118-117 victory against the Sixers last week. Griffin must still feel like he’s in Toronto because his Bucks exhibited the same inconsistency the Raptors did last season in falling to the Hawks on Sunday night.

Many will attribute the 127-110 loss to Damian Lillard shooting 2-for-12. Others will say it was a letdown game after an emotional rollercoaster of a season opener. In a game where Milwaukee never led, I’ll go out on a limb and say the Bucks were doomed from the start.

Fun fact that may only interest me

The Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lillard two-man game on offense will be one of the most unstoppable plays and will generate tons of highlights. There’s no question what Lillard can add on the offensive end. What makes his acquisition interesting is how things play out on the defensive end.

Over the last 5 seasons, here are all of the instances where a Bucks starter had a negative DBPM:

2020-21 — Khris Middleton (-0.3)

Over the same stretch, here are all of the instances where Lillard had a negative DBPM:

2022-23 — Lillard (-1.2)

2021-22 — Lillard (-2.7)

2020-21 — Lillard (-1.3)

2019-20 — Lillard (-0.9)

2018-19 — Lillard (-0.3)


These teams wrapped up their respective 2022-23 regular seasons at Fiserv Forum with the Raptors blowing out a Bucks squad that was resting all of their starters. In the previous matchup — this time with all the regular starters — Antetokounmpo put together a truly unique stat line. The Greek Freak became the 9th player in NBA history to have a triple-double (22 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) while shooting 100% (9-for-9) from the field. He was also the only member of that elite group to also have a negative plus/minus (-10).

Health is going to play a big factor for Toronto to have a chance in this one. Precious Achiuwa and O.G. Anunoby spent the bulk of the time guarding Antetokounmpo in their last matchup. If Anunoby is able to go, how effective will he be coming back from muscle cramps? If Achiuwa is not able to play, would Darko Rajakovic consider matching Anunoby’s court time with Antetokounmpo?

More importantly, who will guard Lillard? The last time Toronto saw him, Lillard dropped 30 points while being guarded by Fred VanVleet. The last time Dennis Schroder faced Lillard, Dame dropped 40 points on him.

All signs point to Griffin matching Nick Nurse in getting a victory in his return to Toronto. The Bucks take down the Raptors, 118-111.

November 2 @ Philadelphia 76ers

What? Another back-to-back? Within the same week? With the SAME opponent who gets the benefit of rest???

Is this the added benefit of having the reigning MVP that you get scheduled wins like these? Is the NBA showing its hand that it felt Nurse was a bigger reason for Toronto’s championship, thus setting him up for wins against his former club? Can I actually complete this entire section with nothing but questions?

What about James Harden? Didn’t he violate the player participation policy by not playing a nationally televised game while not being injured? How does he keep getting away with crying his way off a team....while his teammates don’t seem to mind?

Wow, I really did complete this section with nothing but questions! (D’oh)

Fun fact that may only interest me

James Harden chose the number 13 because it brings bad luck.

I’m confused. Wouldn’t you want to avoid the number that brings bad luck? It’s more believable for him to say that ‘13’ is the number of franchises he plans to play for.


This is a good early test for Rajakovic because the timing almost plays out like a mini-playoff series. Harden should be back in the lineup while Toronto may be without Achiuwa and/or Anunoby. The Raptors didn’t have an answer for Maxey (surprise) or Embiid. The addition of Harden could work in Toronto’s favour. Not only will he be rusty from not having a full training camp, but if he dribbles the air out of the ball, it also keeps it out of the hands of Tyrese and Joel.

The Raptors shot an astounding 10-of-16 from three in the first half against the Sixers on Saturday.....and only led by three points. Nurse pushed the right buttons in the 3rd quarter, unleashing the Maxey/Embiid duo on his former team. They combined to outscore Toronto 27-20 to essentially run away with the game.

Banking on a Hall-of-Famer to be a net negative is not a viable strategy to beat Philadelphia. Playing your 4th game in 6 nights and second back-to-back is also not ideal. Hoping a new head coach can come up with the right adjustments while also entering his second week of regular season coaching is sub-optimal. The Sixers beat the Raptors again, 110-106.

November 5 @ San Antonio Spurs

Without googling, name 3 Spurs starters not named Victor Wembanyama!

My word count is getting high and my deadline passed hours ago, so I’m just going to fill this section with amazing videos of Wemby.

Seriously, how is this fair?

How do you defend him?

Unlike other rookies who wait for their time to shine, Victor’s out here grabbing it from his teammates.

Fun fact that may only interest me

In his rookie season last year, Jeremy Sochan shot 45.8% from the free throw line over the Spurs first 23 games.

He then switched to a one-armed approach and has shot 74.0% since then.


Please, please, please let us see Anunoby guarding Wemby! If this turns into a blowout (for either team), look for San Antonio to empty their bench early as they’ll have a game in Indiana the following night.

Toronto’s won the last five meetings by an average of 20.4 points, including a 143-100 rout in their last visit to the AT&T Center. In that game, the Raptors posted 39 fastbreak points (3rd-highest in the league last year) and handed the Spurs their worst loss in franchise history.

Things should be different this time around. Only 2 of San Antonio’s starters will start in this game: Jeremy Sochan and......Jakob Poeltl. The Raptors should feast on the Spurs after having to navigate the physicality of the Sixers and Bucks earlier in the week. Toronto ends the week on a high note, winning 123-108 in San Antonio.


Last Week: 2-1

Season Record: 2-1

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