In the Toronto Raptors’ first game at Scotiabank Arena in 584 days – approximately five times the length of an average NBA offseason – the atmosphere was electric. As the team introductions began at around 7:30pm, all 19,800 fans in attendance donned their “we back” t-shirts with pride and shouted joyously to welcome the third-stringers as their names were called. By the time that Herbie Kuhn, the Raptors in-game announcer, got to calling Dalano Banton‘s name, the roof was blown off the building.
Following the announcement of the Raptors starting lineup, Fred VanVleet took the microphone from Kardinal Offishall in hopes of offering a message to the dearly missed Canadian crowd, but he was abruptly cut off by roaring “Let’s go Raptors” chants that evoked the emotions which sports are meant to do. It was a beautiful, memorable moment, and that was when it truly sunk in to all of us that the Raptors were home.
Unfortunately, just a few minutes after the ball tipped off, people in the arena were reminded of why they were down a couple hundred bucks. The joyfulness was quickly sucked out of the air as the Wizards began pouring it on. Looking at the 15/51 shooting after the first half, Scottie Barnes‘ six turnovers in the game, and the team boasting a true shooting percentage of 38.9% on the contest, it’s easy to conclude that a lot of things went sideways. Below, I’ll dive into four key storylines that we can keep an eye on for the rest of the season after watching our dinos fall apart last night.
- Gary Trent Jr. should start over Goran Dragic
Once Pascal Siakam recovers from his shoulder surgery, the starting lineup will inevitably change anyways – and it might necessitate even further experimenting once he’s thrown back into the mix – however for game two against the Boston Celtics tomorrow night, it would be a welcoming change to see Gary Trent Jr. thrown into the starting five in place of Goran Dragic. It’s easy to see why Nick Nurse opted to start Dragic over Trent: Having a veteran presence on the floor, especially at the guard spot, would help the Raptors play at their desirable tempo. That becomes even more important when factoring in that OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, and Precious Achiuwa were all relatively untested offensive players. Dragic is also one of the top playmakers on the team, and without the presence of Kyle Lowry to take some of the table-setting weight off VanVleet’s shoulders, Dragic could be viewed as a reasonable replacement. The reason why I’m inclined to start Trent over Dragic is because Trent is a far better shooter off the catch than off the dribble. His streakiest performances come when he is forced to manufacture his own shots in isolation, but for him to play like the steady offensive presence that he was in Portland, he will need to be spoon-fed open looks for a little while longer. Playing next to VanVleet and Anunoby, much of the defensive attention will be focused away from him, and that will allow Trent to find his rhythm by hitting some open shots.
2. The Raptors aren’t actually this bad
The Wizards are not expected to be a great team. Most analysts in the media have them projected to finish around the tenth seed in the Eastern conference, however, if you knew nothing about them and saw how they were beating down on the Raptors last night, you would probably think that they were title contenders. In many ways, that perspective owes thanks to the Toronto Raptors lack of offense yesterday. As aforementioned, the Raptors went into halftime shooting 15/51 from the floor. The second half was only a marginal improvement, shooting 15/46. OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet – the number one and two option on this team – combined to hit 8 of their 37 shots. According to the Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat, this was the ninth worst shooting game in Raptors history. Simply put, when you shoot the ball this poorly, you’re going to look like a bottom-feeding basketball team, and the Raptors won’t shoot this poorly again for a very long time.
3. More team dinners are needed
The Raptors had more communication errors last night than I have fingers on my hands, which over a forty-eight minute basketball game, can never be a good thing. In the opening minutes of the game, VanVleet’s defender slipped on the court and Freddy found himself wide open in the weak-side corner. If Achiuwa had lifted to the top of the key to pull his defender out of the way and clear the passing lane for Dragic to whip a pass to VanVleet, the Raptors would have had an easy three-point look. Rather, Dragic was forced to settle for a tough stepback as the shot clock wound down. Another occurrence of a blown up play that can be attributed to new faces being in different places came in the third quarter when Barnes was running a two-on-one fastbreak with Achiuwa – a situation that should result in an easy dunk ten times out of ten. Unfortunately, Barnes had the idea to throw a low scoop pass to Achiuwa, while Achiuwa was expecting to catch a lob up top. Ultimately, the miscommunication resulted in the ball flying out of bounds. As we watch this team, it’s important to remember that five of the ten rotation players last night were playing their first game as a Raptor. They will need to take some time to learn each other’s tendencies, but once they do, the on-court product should look much less sloppy.
4. Dalano Banton will crack the rotation tomorrow
This probably is not as bold of a take as it would have been twenty-four hours ago, but I’m very optimistic about the value that Banton can bring to this squad. At first glance, he does not have a slew of modern basketball skills aside from his ability to leverage his length defensively and pass the ball over top smaller defenders given his 6’9 stature.
There are some players that are just good at making a team click. They make the players around them better. This type of sentiment is typically only awarded to superstars and elite playmakers, but with the energy that Banton brings from the second that he steps on the floor, he is able to get his entire team playing more physically and running the floor harder. In just over twelve minutes yesterday, Dalano was a team-best +8. In his first couple minutes on the court, he was already making an impact, and showed that he wasn’t nervous to play in front of his hometown crowd. He started off by altering a couple of shots defensively, he snared a couple rebounds, and he threw one dime between the outstretched arms of defenders to find Chris Boucher on a backcut. He ended the third quarter with a halfcourt heave that miraculously fell through the net, resulting in his first NBA points, and he gave the Raptors some hope of being able to stage a comeback. If the Raptors are in need of a chaotic presence to stir things up against Boston, I fully expect Nick Nurse to turn to Dalano once again.