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Cleveland Cavaliers v Toronto Raptors

The Rap-Up: Toronto’s new dynamic duo

There are only 4 players averaging 30 points or more. Toronto visits the homes of two of those players this week as the Raptors put its top-10 defense to the test.

Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

At last season’s Media Day, Pascal Siakam made a memorable statement, “For me, after the year that I had, I just feel like there’s so much things I can get better on, and for me, the next step, like I’ve been All-NBA, I’ve been an All-Star. I want to be a top-five player in the league.”

You can’t really blame him for what he said. Despite a slow start to his season, Siakam still finished the 2021-22 campaign as 1 of only 5 players to average at least 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists (ranking 3rd among those 5 in Win Shares). While he would play well enough to crack the All-Star team (as an injury replacement), Siakam could never reach the elite tier of NBA superstars the Toronto Raptors will face this week in Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum.

Top-5 status may not be in Siakam’s future but it does seem possible for Scottie Barnes!

When I quoted Uncle Ben from Spiderman in my Barnes preseason preview, even I didn’t anticipate the responsibility Scottie would take on for this team. He has been everything the Raptors could’ve asked for and more!

Early season sample size, obviously, but Ya Boy Scottie is averaging 22.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.1 steals, and 2.1 blocks. Only two players in NBA history have averaged 20/10/5/1/2 over an entire season: Kevin Garnett (in his lone MVP season) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who did it twice, with the first instance leading to an MVP).

He’s 9th in Win Shares, 7th in Box Plus/Minus, and 4th in Value Over Replacement Player. Among Forwards, Barnes ranks 2nd in Block Percentage, 5th in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (on field goal attempts), and 5th in Long-Mid range FG% — or as I like to call it, the DeRoZone (trademark pending).

The beginning of this season has been a roller-coaster of ride. With Barnes and O.G. Anunoby carrying this team, you’d have to think Masai Ujiri is chuckling just a little bit to himself. One of them has never been in trade discussions while the other has garnered a king’s ransom.....and they’re both proving why Ujiri values them so highly.

Anunoby’s numbers don’t jump out like Barnes’, but O.G.’s been the defensive quarterback that’s leading Darko Rajakovic’s elite defense. With O.G. shutting down the opposition’s best offensive player, Scottie has excelled so far as an excellent help defender. They’ll both be put to the ultimate tests with visits to Dallas and Boston this week.

November 8 @ Dallas Mavericks

For a team that houses the enigmatic personality of Kyrie Irving, a highlight reel waiting to happen in Derrick Jones Jr., outspoken folks like Grant Williams and Jason Kidd, and exciting prospects ready to bloom in Josh Green and Dereck Lively II.......Luka Doncic sure does hog all the headlines!

Doncic has been outstanding to start the season — even by his lofty standards. He’s almost averaging a triple-double (32.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 9.3 assists), a feat he’s never achieved (yet) over a full season (and only accomplished by Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson).

The Mavericks were the last Western Conference team to suffer defeat, which would normally sound impressive until you look at who they’ve beaten so far — San Antonio, Brooklyn, Memphis, Chicago, and Charlotte. The only double-digit victory being against a Grizzlies squad without Ja Morant, Steven Adams, Brandon Clarke, Luke Kennard, and Santi Aldama. Dallas’ offense ranks 3rd while its defense sits at 22nd. Those ranks are in line with where they finished last season (6th and 23rd respectively).

Fun fact that may only interest me

Luka’s Basketball Reference page is filled with some eye-popping stats, but my attention was immediately drawn to his nicknames:

  • The Matador / El Matador
  • Cool Hand
  • The Don
  • Wonder Boy / El Niño Maravilla
  • Swaggy L
  • Luka Legend
  • Too Easy
  • Luka Magic

I’ve said it before that Cool Hand Luka is one of the best nicknames in the NBA, but both of the Spanish nicknames are also amazing (only partially because of how they sound phonetically).

Prediction

The season isn’t even 2 weeks old, yet Anunoby has already shut down the following players when he was guarding them: Anthony Edwards (1-of-10, 5 points), DeMar DeRozan (1-of-7, 2 points), and Giannis Antetokounmpo (1 field goal attempt as his primary defender). Luka is a different beast. His range is much farther than anyone Anunoby typically guards, thus, allowing for more scoring opportunities. Doncic benefited from Nick Nurse’s switch-heavy defense as a simple screen could easily free him from Anunoby. Darko’s system is much more conventional, so expect a heavyweight duel when Doncic has the ball and Anunoby is in his defensive stance!

Irving has taken his rightful spot as Doncic’s right-hand man, though his stats leave much to be desired. Just three seasons removed from joining the 50/40/90 club, Irving’s shooting splits are a very un-Kyrie-like 44/22/92. (Not a typo. World B Flat is shooting 5-for-23 from beyond the arc).

Check the list of teams Dallas has defeated so far because each of those teams have something in common: they all own below-average (16th or lower) defenses. The Mavericks are about to get a rude awakening from one of the stingiest defenses in the league. Toronto comes away with an inspiring 104-98 road win in Dallas.

November 11 @ Boston Celtics

Toronto’s season-opening win over the Timberwolves is looking better each day. Minnesota has handed the only losses to the East’s best team (Boston) AND the West’s best team (Denver).

When Boston made the big splash during the off-season, trading for Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday, most were proclaiming them as the title favourites. But not me!

The Celtics traded away four of their top-eight (in terms of usage last season) and ended up with 2 injury-prone players! Holiday definitely makes up for the defensive presence lost by Marcus Smart, plus he’s a much better offensive player. However, he’s only played more than 68 games once over his last 10 seasons, and three times over his 14-year career.

Porzingis has only played more 68 games once over his entire career....72 games in his rookie season! While he’s typically been the first or second option, Kristaps has adjusted well so far as Boston’s third wheel. He’s hitting his career averages across the board and provides the type of spacing that the newly-departed Celtics never could (Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams, Robert Williams).

They have unsurprisingly gotten off to a hot start. If (When) one of their starters get injured, Joe Mazzulla will have to get creative with his uninspiring bench. (Yet another reason to not like the current roster. The Celtics stripped away their depth and are hoping Jrue can do for Boston what he did in Milwaukee: make the team hire a bunch of ex-Raptors win a championship.

Speaking of title chances, as much as Raptors fans (myself included) could not bear the thought of Boston as champions, at least we’d see the Larry OB in Rexdale!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Jayson Tatum is cousins with Tyronn Lue (on his grandfather’s side). Jayson’s dad, Justin, and Tyronn also share a mutual friend in Larry Hughes. In fact, Hughes is Jayson’s godfather!

Prediction

I can see Anunoby making life difficult for Tatum. I can see Barnes outdueling Jaylen Brown. I can see Dennis Schroder zig-zagging his way past Derrick White for a ridiculous layup. I can see Pascal Siakam catching Porzingis flat-footed as he flies through the lane. While all of those statements can happen, it’s fair to ask if they’ll all happen at TD Garden on Remembrance Day.

That’s a bit of a stretch, considering Boston’s 2nd-ranked defense. This is a team that has owned the Raptors for the entirety of this decade. Since the calendar flipped to 2020, Boston has won 10 of the 12 matchups with Toronto.

The Celtics take down the visiting Raptors 112-103.

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Last Week: 2-2

Season Record: 4-3

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