RaptorsHQ’s Jay Rosales and JD Quirante had a quick chat recently, evaluating the Toronto Raptors’ season through ten games and going through some of the storylines that manifested early this season. Jay and JD touched upon several topics, such as coach Darko Rajakovic and his 0.5 offense, Scottie Barnes’ emergence, Pascal Siakam and Dennis Shroder’s usage, and many more — 10 topics, to be exact, as we are 10 games into the season.
On a side note, is this the first time two Filipinos collaborated on an NBA piece???
1. How do you feel about this team, 10 games in?
Jay Rosales: With 10 games in the book, I’m slightly more confident than the average Raptors fan. It’s no surprise that this team would have its bumps and bruises - especially on the offensive end - however, you can’t help but feel encouraged with what you’re seeing from Scottie Barnes (he’s leaping), OG Anunoby (legit DPOY candidate), Dennis Schroder (validating his World Cup MVP), and Gradey Dick (more than just a shooter). Come on, JD, tell me you’re on the bandwagon (Barnes wagon?) too!
JD Quirante: Of course, as a Raps fan, you’d wish for your prospect to turn into something really good, so Barnes’ start to the season is encouraging! However, I’m probably between frustrated and disappointed overall because I know this team is better than what they’ve shown so far, as seen on those crazy halves they’ve played in some of these games. I understand the “growing pains” part, but I wonder if they are the right “pain,” haha.
2. How would you grade Darko as a coach so far?
Jay: Darko’s been a solid 7.5 so far this season. He’s made some rookie coach mistakes (i.e. too much Flynn) but has also learned from them (i.e. just enough Flynn lately). The Minnesota win is looking better each day. It doesn’t matter that it was against the Spurs and Wizards, Darko pulled the right strings in orchestrating 22 & 23 point comebacks, respectively.
Jay: The counterpoint would be to say that you shouldn’t need a historic comeback against a lottery team (let alone twice in a week). Is there something he’s doing (or not doing) that’s putting the team in these precarious positions?
JD: I’m not as optimistic as Jay here, haha. I’m giving him a solid 6.5, and here’s why:
- Barnes’ ascendance
- Dennis looking better than expected
- Malachi Flynn refurbishment project
- 5-5 record 10 games in, when I wasn’t even sure if we’d get more than 3 wins. If anything, we could have gotten 6, if not 7, wins.
- Giving the bench a chance to fail, and fail hard!
- Using Jakob and Precious to make decisions offensively
- Pascal’s utility (through 8 games, he’s getting the Doc Rivers Tobias Harris treatment). Pascal should be getting that ”Pascal Siakam ain’t no spot up shooter, he aint gotta run to the corner to shoot like he’s some 3rd option....” meme treatment
- A great concept, but poor execution on 0.5 offense
- Where are the Gradey minutes? I thought we were focusing on development here?
- The Bulls loss. Smh.
- Not giving Pascal the chain after a historic night
3. How do you feel about the 0.5 offense?
Jay: Maybe I’m not the right person to answer this question because I haven’t quite noticed the 0.5 offense. That’s probably why the Raptors have one of the worst half-court offenses in the league. Granted, transitioning to a new offensive system should take time, so maybe this question deserves an “incomplete.”
JD: The 0.5 offense is more of a philosophy, a layer of how players should operate within the playbook. What’s happening for the most part is the team’s looking more like the Harlem Globetrotters passing the ball around without making progress, eating up precious time without creating an advantage. While the 0.5 offense isn’t a bad concept, many things could go wrong if implemented incorrectly, as coach Darko is not coaching the team based on what he’s got.
4. What’s your biggest surprise of the season?
Jay: I will be the first to admit (and all of you should, too) that I did not expect Dennis Schroder to be this good. Instead of inadvertently answering question #6, I’ll use this space to throw out a cool stat. Schroder has never finished a season averaging 8 (or 7!) assists per game (currently at 7.9). If he reaches that average by the end of the season, he’ll join Jerry West for the 2nd-longest start to a career (11 seasons) before averaging 8 assists per game. The only player who took longer (13 seasons) was Kyle Lowry!
JD: Yup, definitely, Schroder’s impressive to start the season. We would never be 5-5 if he wasn’t solid to begin the season, although I think his performance is regressing to the mean.
JD: For me, the biggest surprise is with all that talk of Scottie as a point, we’ve never seen him consistently run the team. The ball was heavy on Dennis while looking at the starters, and the Barnes+bench transition lineups had Barnes be a secondary playmaker at best. I thought the Raptors would let Barnes go wild like how the Milwaukee Bucks did, experimenting with young Giannis at the point several years back.
5. Siakam’s performance and usage are down to his pre-MIP season. Is Coach Darko doing a good job incorporating him into the offense, or is Siakam struggling with his new role?
Jay: This feels like a chicken-and-egg question. We could point the finger at Darko’s system as a reason why Siakam has, at times, struggled in the offensive half-court. His recent success has mainly been a product of game script. Dallas was without its starting big, so Siakam was given the reins to cook in isolation. The same happened against the Wizards when Washington built a huge lead (thus forcing more urgency from Siakam) AND forgot Daniel Gafford was on their team to protect the paint (and lead). I wouldn’t go as far as saying he’s struggling in his new role, but I also would say that Darko has done a good job of incorporating him into this offense. (He’s operating just fine when the offense is essentially “clear the lane for Pascal to cook.”)
Jay: I feel like this may lead to a trade-related retort, so allow me to add my two cents. Actually, 75 cents because I think that’s what Toronto will get, at best, for Siakam’s proverbial dollar if he’s traded. Do you think his value has changed over these first 10 games?
JD: Do you mean whether Pascal’s worth 2 seconds now instead of 2 firsts before the start of the season? j/k
JD: I’m not as upset as I was about this question after seeing Pascal cook vs Mavs and Wizards; oh boy, but I was fuming before that. This guy’s an all-NBA, all-star player, and we’re sacrificing his game so that we can Harlem globetrotter the ball. What are we doing here? It’s funny: when Darko needs a win, he will throw his playbook away so his seat won’t get too hot. Darko must find the right combination and play sets and assign the players the right roles within that playbook.
JD: Also, Pascal’s not 100% the victim here; part of his output is his fault. I’m not sure if he was just uncomfortable with his role in the offense, or where he’s getting the ball is just not an area where he could be productive or sulking. But he can push himself to do better while on the floor. The bottom line is that Darko’s leaving a lot of points on the board if Pascal is not getting touches and would finish the night with 10 points. If you keep doing that and expect to win, Darko, I’ve got some snake oil I need to sell you.
6. Fill in the blank: I love Dennis Schroder, _________
- but he is handling the ball too much
- but he should be the backup point guard
- he’s a great replacement value over Fred VanVleet
- other? _________
Jay: I love Dennis Schroder, he’s a great replacement value for Fred VanVleet. He’s been a pest on defense and a great table-setter on offense. Schroder is averaging the same number of assists as Fred and shooting the ball much better than his predecessor - both inside and beyond the arc. If he ends up leading the bench unit, I’ll hand you your flowers, JD. But so far, he’s been a perfect complement to Pascal and Scottie in the starting lineup.
Jay: I hear what you’re saying about him regressing to the mean, but I feel like the front office has painted themselves into a corner at the point guard position. He’s generated good chemistry with the starting unit. If a trade were to happen, don’t you think it would be more feasible for the Raptors to get a backup point guard in return (with whatever else is included in the package)?
JD: I love Dennis, but he’s handling the ball too much. Ideally, the usage should be Scottie/Pascal in one tier, then OG/Dennis/GTJ next. The more we have to ask him to do stuff on the ball, the more it translates to Pascal and Scottie not being utilized properly offensively. Do you know where he can and should handle the ball: With the bench unit. If Darko’s all set with Barnes+bench, Schroder should provide stability and some sense of direction if Barnes won’t do it. Flynn’s doing better, but he’s much better as an off-ball threat and a secondary playmaker if you really have to.
7. It feels like you can only have a few experiments going on and expect to win at a decent clip. Which experiments should the Raptors pull the plug ASAP?
- Precious Achiuwa Experience
- Malachi Flynn as a backup point guard
- blind faith on 0.5 offense
Jay: If you had asked me this last week, I would’ve said Malachi before you even finished reading the other options. But he’s working his tail off, and Darko’s showing continued faith in him. Precious will also have his ups and downs, but we’ve seen enough of him to get excited about a re-emergence of post-all-star-2022 Achiuwa.
Jay: It’s too early to give up on 0.5 offense. Actually, it’s too early to pull the plug on anything. This team is nowhere near a finished product. Keep trying things, Darko. You never know when you’ll need Chris Boucher as your Center for a monumental comeback.
JD: I have a theory about why they’re doing the Precious Achiuwa experiment, but that’s probably an article for another day. But really, this Achiuwa experiment ain’t it, and it’s time to pull the plug. Just use him for what he is and utilize his skill set to augment the other 4 guys on the floor. Let’s stop asking him to make decisions and dribble east/west for more than three bounces please.
8. Gradey Dick looks like he hasn’t shaken off the jitters. What should the Raptors do with him?
Jay: Dick looks like a deer in headlights sometimes. When he catches the ball, if he doesn’t hoist a shot, he seems reluctant to get back into his shooting motion and ends up killing the offensive rhythm. If he’s the next coming of Klay Thompson, he needs to have faith that his shots will fall.
Jay: I actually thought he’d be brought along slowly, maybe spend some time in the 905. A stint with the G League would obviously benefit you, so I imagine you agree.
JD: Jay, I actually feel the opposite. I’ve had several people ask me, “Hey, JD, should we send Gradey down at the 905?” and my answer is always a firm “NO.” Gradey’s issue, as you’ve alluded to, is more about jitters and getting into game speed. He needs to figure out in real time that he’s got enough daylight to put up a shot, and that he’s got enough time not to rush his shot. The shooting is there — or at least will come around, and he’s doing small things to be a contributor on the floor; he just needs more minutes to get comfortable.
JD: The problem with sending him down to the G League is, yes, he’ll see his shot go in, but that’s because he’ll know that he’ll get at least 30 minutes of burn and most likely get a whole lotta shots than he would get with the main club. What happens after that? He goes back to Scotiabank Arena; the game speed is different, his role on the offence is different, and he knows that he’ll probably need to show something within 4-5 shots and 10-15 minutes.
9. Scottie Barnes seems poised for a breakout year, but we have yet to see a complete game from him. Most notably, a dud in Boston. Are you optimistic that he will continue trending up or worried that he might regress to what he was last season?
Jay: I’m not sure what your definition of a “complete game” is, but did you see what he did in San Antonio??? (Seriously, what happened in San Antonio) He’s such a unique talent with the ability to lock in defensively when needed and kick-start the offense when it’s in a lull. Scottie’s future is bright, and his performance so far has been nothing short of All-Star-worthy. Am I drinking too much Kool-Aid?
JD: No, Jay, there’s a lot to be excited by what we’ve seen so far, and we want to see more. That’s the key there for me — I want to see more. I’m mildly optimistic. I predicted a 22/10/8 season for him, and I think we’ll get there if he maintains his aggressiveness. There are still a lot of areas that need improvement, yet he’s doing this much damage right now. Also, coaching matters. Darko’s gonna have to look into these long stretches where Scottie is not productive and troubleshoot and fix what’s going on.
10. Is there anything in particular you’d like to see more moving forward?
Jay: I’d like to see what happens when Christian Koloko returns. If/When he’s healthy, Koloko will likely spend some time in the G League. However, it’s when he dons the Raptors uniform where I’m interested. He could absolutely shore up the bench unit’s shortcomings (no pun intended). His eventual return will force Darko to make some difficult decisions about how minutes will be distributed.
Jay: I should probably mention the Siakam/OG extensions, but that’ll be talked about ad nauseum. Unless, of course, you’d like to dive into it now.
JD: I wanna see Christian Koloko eventually take Precious Achiuwa’s minutes, and I want to see more of Gradey Dick. We did not select this kid in the lottery only for him to sit on the bench or spend a lot of time in the G League like he’s playing behind a prime Klay Thompson ahead of him in the pecking order.