Fred VanVleet is a father once again!
Dad Fred VanVleet 3.0 Congrats to Fred and his family! pic.twitter.com/CTQLQhr2zB— (@AaronBenRose) February 26, 2023
As a father of two, I have nothing but admiration for any set of parents that opt to be outnumbered by their children.
Speculation of the birth grew feverishly after Fred was surprisingly added to the injury report against New Orleans a mere 30 minutes before tip-off. Could it be? Are we headed for another post-baby FVV run of excellence?
You already know the
story legend about Fred VanVleet Jr. After FVV Jr. was born on May 20, 2019, FVV was a man on fire. More importantly, the Raptors won seven of their next nine games and claimed the franchise’s first championship!
What you may not remember is how well Toronto performed after the VanVleet family welcomed their first child. Sanaa was born on January 29, 2018. The Raptors would go on to win 18 of their next 20 games!
Am I suggesting Toronto is about to go on an epic run? Interpret it however you like but there’s no denying how well the Raptors have performed in their final 18 games during the Masai Ujiri era. Add in the latest VanVleet addition and we could be in store for something special!
February 28 vs Chicago Bulls
If you were unhappy with Masai and Bobby’s decision not to tank, imagine how Bulls fans feel. Chicago’s first-round pick is only top-4 protected!
The Bulls have an All-Star core of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic that can score in a variety of ways. Alex Caruso is one of the best defenders in the league and a staple in the deflections leaderboard year after year. Chicago’s depth ranges from promising talent (Ayo Dosummu, Patrick Williams, and Coby White) to wily veterans (Goran Dragic, Patrick Beverley, and Andre Drummond). Not having Lonzo Ball this season is part of the reason for the Bulls’ disappointing campaign so far — Chicago’s drop offensively speaks to Ball’s absence — but the team’s defense has jumped from 22nd last season to 6th this season.
So, why haven’t they improved on last season’s 6th-place finish?
Chicago and Toronto have generally underachieved, but their paths have been different. While four of Toronto’s five starters (everyone except Scottie Barnes) have missed at least 10 games each this season, four of Chicago’s five starters (DeRozan, LaVine, Vucevic, and Patrick Williams) have missed 13 games....combined!
The Bulls are only 3 games ahead of the Magic, who currently have the 5th-best lottery odds. The bottom-4 teams are set for the draft (Pistons, Hornets, Spurs, and Rockets) but Chicago MUST tank and improve their lottery odds. The Bulls cannot use health as an excuse, nor can they be blamed for lacking star power. They are who they are: a play-in team, at best, with little hope to be a playoff threat with the current roster.
They should have traded Vucevic’s $22 million expiring contract (and White’s $7 million expiring). Whether those trades were to improve the team as a playoff contender this year or help with the tank, staying put is the worst outcome of the trade deadline. The addition of hometown favourite, Beverley, is good for the vibes but the writing’s on the wall for Chicago: make up for the horribly bad Vucevic trade (Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, a first-rounder that ended up being Franz Wagner, AND this year’s top-4-protected pick) by tanking and hoping for some lottery luck!
Fun fact that may only interest me
In the past few weeks, there have been discussions about DeRozan’s kids — specifically how many he has. While the numbers have fluctuated between two (with his wife, Kiara) and five (three with another?), something that CAN be considered fact is that he does have a son.
Dalen asks for DeMar’s autograph on a drawing of his headshot— Will Gottlieb (@Will_Gottlieb) February 26, 2023
Their relationship >>> pic.twitter.com/tEPs4L0P6R
The Bulls returned from the All-Star break with the defensive peskiness of the newly signed PatBev. Chicago had their best defensive performance of the season in their first post-ASB game when they held the visiting Nets to 87 points. The Bulls followed that up with an even better defensive game against the visiting Wizards, holding Washington to 82 points.
Nick Nurse will have to pick his poison between LaVine and DeRozan when deciding which one gets the Anunoby treatment... and which one will likely drop 30 points.
The home team has won the last five meetings between these teams. That’s especially helpful for the Raptors because this is the third and final meeting after the teams split the home-and-away doubleheader in November. Getting the tiebreaker would be monumental considering they’re only separated by 2.5 games.
This figures to be a hard-fought game. Lavine missed the game where Chicago lost, while Siakam missed both games. Based on how both earlier games went, the team that grabs more offensive boards and gets to the line more should win. Ranking better in both of those categories (4th and 12th respectively) plus playing in front of the home crowd will be the difference. Toronto beats Chicago, 107-104.
March 2 & 4 @ Washington Wizards
While Chicago is incentivized to tank for a top-4 spot, Washington’s first-rounder is lottery-protected. So, the Wizards don’t necessarily have to tank, but their lack of deadline moves (and generally poor roster construction) indicates a win-win scenario of sorts (at least for the front office). Washington can make a playoff push and gain valuable experience for their core of Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma, and Kristaps Porzingis. If (when) they fail, at least they’ll have some draft lottery hope.
The core has some serious questions that need answering. Beal’s 22.7 points per game are his lowest average since 2017-18. It’s no coincidence that Beal’s usage has dipped over the last two seasons since Washington acquired Porzingis at the trade deadline last season. Speaking of Kristaps, he’s got a player option next season for $36 million that I don’t foresee him declining. Kuzma, on the other hand, has a player option for $13 million that he’s definitely turning down. He’s averaging a career-high in points (21.2) and has earned himself a sizable raise. With almost $73 million already tied up in Beal/Porzingis and $60 million for the rest of the squad (sans Kuzma) next season, it’s hard to see Kuzma wearing a Wizards uniform after the summer.
Actually, it’s hard to see Kuzma wearing anything in general.
Kyle Kuzma is the final boss of Brooklyn pic.twitter.com/lnLTRHqKAk— Christian Polanco (@chrispolanco) February 5, 2023
Fun fact that may only interest me (PART 1)
Russell Westbrook lasted one season with Washington but the Westbrook transaction tree has branches that affect both the Wizards and Raptors.
Westbrook was traded from Houston to Washington for John Wall and the aforementioned 2023 lottery-protected first. That pick was later traded by Houston to OKC in a deal that nabbed Alperun Sengun. The Thunder would flip that pick to the Knicks for Ousmane Dieng. So, the Wizards owe the Knicks their first-round pick this season if Washington makes the playoffs.
Westbrook was eventually traded by the Wizards to the Lakers in a complex five-team deal. One of the moving pieces was a second-rounder from Washington to San Antonio that ended up being Christian Koloko.
Fun fact that may only interest me (PART 2)
Game Score is an all-in-one stat on Basketball Reference that attempts to attach a number to a specific player’s performance within a game. When looking at Delon Wright’s top-10 Game Scores over his career, all SEVEN of the teams he’s played for appear on the list!
If we exclude the last Tampa meeting and the first game of the 2021-22 season (you know, one of the two games Goran Dragic started?), the Raptors have won the last 12(!) meetings with the Wizards.
These games are where Jakob Poeltl’s value will be paramount. Washington ranks 1st in FG% at the rim and 4th in FG% on corner threes. If Poeltl is able to hold his ground in the paint, Toronto’s bevy of long-limbed forwards can stay home on corner shooters.
The Wizards have one of the worst transition defenses in the league (29th overall; 30th off live rebounds; 24th off steals). They’re a below-average defensive-rebounding team and also turn the ball over more than the average team.
I’m confident the Raptors will win at least one of these matchups. The question is whether Toronto can claim both games. The last (and only?) time the Raptors were able to win both games of a road double-header was in Milwaukee during the Tampa season. Toronto surely has enough desperation and motivation to win both games — especially with Superdad VanVleet back in the lineup — but I’ll err on the side of caution and predict a split. Toronto wins one 112-108 and loses the other 119-110.