The Toronto Raptors continue their west coast road trip tonight as they head to Utah to face the Jazz. Utah is in the midst of a rebuild, currently tied for place in the Western Conference with the New Orleans Pelicans — an impressive result, after trading away their superstars Rudy Gobert to Minnesota and Donovan Mitchell to Cleveland.
The Raptors on the other hand have been... less than impressive this season. They’ve split their West coast road trip so far, and rumours are flying ahead of the trade deadline next week. Yet, they continue on in hopes of getting closer to evening out their record.
Unfortunately the Raptors will have to continue to play without O.G. Anunoby, who has been ruled out of games until the Raptors return from their road trip. Yet, he is currently in the centre of rumours, so will he even make it back to Canada with the team?
Toronto will likely wait until the last minutes to make a transaction — if they even make one. So for now, we’ll have to work with what we got.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 9:00 PM ET
Toronto Raptors – Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Precious Achiuwa, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Utah Jazz – Malik Beasley, Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley
Toronto Raptors – O.G. Anunoby (wrist – out), Otto Porter Jr. (foot – out)
Utah Jazz – Simone Fontecchio (foot – out)
Unlikely record, unlikely All-Star
As unpredictable as the Jazz’ current 26-26 record might be, an even more unlikely result of the roster deconstruction Danny Ainge spearheaded as been the play of Lauri Markkanen. He’s averaging an astonishing 25 points and 9 rebounds on the season, on 52/43/87 shooting splits. 43% from downtown! On 7 attempts per game! He’s a decent free throw streak away from a 50-40-90 season. Safe to say, no one saw this coming.
Sure, Markkanen had put up solid numbers before; on a similar usage percentage back in 2018-19, he averaged 19 and 9 on 43% shooting overall. But this season is just... well, astonishing. It’s also All-Star worthy, and the league’s coaches will surely select Markkanen to join the festivities on All-Star weekend — especially since the event is in Utah.
Speaking of All-Star weekend, Scottie Barnes was named to the Rising Stars challenge yesterday; he seems to have shaken off whatever funk he was in for the first three months of the season, and January he averaged 18.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists, on 51% shooting. His three-ball still isn’t there — 27% on the month — but he has shown improvements defensively, which is a welcome sight.
It’s a well-timed turnaround, too; his sluggish start might have made the Raptors unsure if he was the future of the franchise he seemed poised to become after last season’s ROTY campaign. And with the team struggling, and likely to make a trade, his current play hopefully instills more confidence that the team, even if it’s not playing well now, is set up for long-term success with Scottie as foundational pillar.
Second Half Precious
Precious Achiuwa might be another foundational pillar for the future of the Raptors. He too, had a sluggish start to the 2022-23 season — although, sluggish doesn't really describe Precious. It was more the opposite, like he was trying to do too much, all at once, and getting himself into trouble — forcing shots, forcing drives, gambling on defense. And then he got hurt before he could reign himself in.
Now Achiuwa is back and looking much more like the well-rounded player he was after the February of last season. In 25 games post-All-Star in 2022, Achiuwa averaged 12 points and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes per game, on 46% shooting (39% from downtown). In his last 10 games (he’s played 16 since coming back from injury), Achiuwa is averaging 14.7 points and 8.6 rebounds in 30 minutes a night, on 57% shooting (33% from downtown).
It’s not clear what flips Precious’ switch partway through the season, but let’s hope he can find it earlier next year!