The Raptors played their first pre-season game in Tokyo, taking on the offensive juggernaut that is the Houston Rockets. While the level of competition in pre-season is mediocre to say the least, it was quite sufficient to take a look at the team and see how their performance may let us see some of the future. Both teams opted to limit the minutes allotted to the top players. Harden and Westbrook both played sub 30 minutes, and the Raptors sat out Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry for the sake of rest. Regardless, it seemed like this game provided some exciting glimpses of the possibilities that are present at the start of this season.
1) Serge Ibaka
While known as a terrifying defender in Oklahoma City, Ibaka’s best days as a shotblocker are behind him. However his offensive renaissance in Toronto cannot be understated. Serge has transformed himself to more of an athletic small ball center who can hit pick and pop shots. Without Kawhi Leonard, there are a lot of shots to go around the team. It seems like the team will be focusing more on team based offense, now that they don’t have a clear cut superstar.
In this pre-season game, Ibaka showed that he can score, dropping 18 points in 22 minutes, on 8-10 shooting. He also made his sole 3-point attempt. Serge Ibaka isn’t a consistent scorer by any means: however the switch to small ball center has enhanced his offensive game, allowing him to be a scorer, so long as other scorers who are better are on the roster. A preseason game doesn’t mean much: but it shows more of a similar trend that we saw during last season. When Serge Ibaka is hot, he rarely misses. I want to see whether Ibaka can become a more consistent scorer next season in a team based offense.
2) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Rondae Hollis Jefferson was signed this offseason, as part of the team’s rebuilding effort in the wake of Kawhi Leonard’s departure. He seems to be a solid Masai signing: an athletic young defender, who has a raw offensive game. His jump shot isn’t great and it seems like he will never be more than a solid contributor on the offensive end. In this transition period between the championship and a possible rebuild, RHJ is a primary candidate for the Raptors development system.
RHJ was the best defender on the young Nets team from last year and he is still young, being only 24 years old. In this pre-season game, RHJ only played 13 minutes, yet got 5 rebounds, 2 of them being offensive rebounds. He also managed to get two steals in this short period of time. This shows his hustle and commitment to being a good defender, who can guard the best player on the opposing team. While only a short cameo of RHJ, this game showed a small glimpse of his defensive ability. If he manages to gain any sort of offensive game, then RHJ may become a solid player indeed.
3) Pascal Siakam
How does one not get excited for Pascal Siakam? An elite transition scorer who can wreak havoc on opposing defenses with his speed and athleticism, who also developed an iso game out of thin air. His leap last season got him Most Improved Player, and everyone around the league is excited to see whether he can take the next step again. His job this season is one that is difficult, but I assume it’s nothing that he can’t handle. Siakam has to be the man this season, the #1 option on his team. He won’t have Kawhi Leonard to take the spotlight off of him. Opponents will be doubling him left and right, and there is no clear cut #2 for him either.
Siakam will get a lot of possessions and he will have to create offense for himself. While this particular game isn’t up to par with regular NBA games, this double-double by Siakam has to give Raptors fans some hope. While he had 5 turnovers on the game (highlights won’t show that), this is a preseason game, so there is not a lot of cause for concern. As far as his defender, he was guarded by P.J Tucker, one of the best defenders in the league. Let’s relax and not take this game too seriously, but the promise is absolutely there.