There is no secret that this start of the season for the Toronto Raptors has been frustrating. This has been apparent to the fans, players, and the coaches. Everyone knows that it has not been what this organization has become accustomed to. Following a game 1 loss to the Orlando Magic, lasting nearly 18 months, this team was Magical. They breezed through the Magic after that, beat the Philadelphia 76ers in iconic fashion, came back from the dead against the Milwaukee Bucks, and then took down a dynasty in the Golden State Warriors en route to an NBA Championship. They followed that by a 53-19 ‘prove it’ type season where they kept silencing the critics night in and night out.
Now here we are. Following an exciting, but mostly painful second round loss to the Boston Celtics in September the Raptors are 0-2. They lost their season opener for the first time in 8 years and then lost yet again to a team not expected to be competitive this season. It is not the start that the Raptors were hoping for after being doubted yet again. There are many things to take away, both positive and negative, from these two games. Pascal Siakam is showing a lot of promising signs in his playmaking and shooting stroke in the early season. Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher are looking like a serviceable duo for the Raptors centre rotation. Kyle Lowry has been pretty good and doesn’t show signs of his age. That is mostly it, so far.
Let’s take a look at some things that should be causes for concern in a game of ‘Concern or Patience.’
Norman Powell – Concern
Norman Powell is a really good person and I don’t want to say bad things about him. He is an ambassador for the team, a leader in the fight against racial injustice, and a guy that you want in your locker room. On top of this, he is a very good basketball player. The only problem with Powell is that he just isn’t consistent enough. There is no doubt that Norm will put together amazing strings of games, but when he is off it really hurts the team. Patience is a concept that has been given to Powell before, but that may be over.
Among the rotation players, Powell is the only one who hasn’t contributed anything of value thus far. On both ends of the floor it has been rough. It has been a large enough sample to assume that Powell will never be consistent enough. A Powell trade may be in the future given his contract and the log jam of guards in the rotation.
The Defence – Patience
Through two games the Raptors have the 20th best defensive efficiency in the NBA at 111.5. Last season, the Raptors had the second best rating at 104.7. This is a team that will be hard-pressed to be a top 10 offense, so defence needs to continue to be the team’s identity. Baynes has been a downgrade on Marc Gasol defensively, but other than that they still have a lot of pieces from last season. Fred Vanvleet, OG Anunoby, Lowry, and Siakam can still lead this team to elite defense. So far, the main problem has been the lack of communication. It will take time to adjust to the new faces in the rotation, but we should have faith in Nick Nurse and the team veterans to fix this sooner than later.
The Rotation – Patience
Speaking of Nick Nurse, he has had some struggles in the early season. The Raptors haven’t found many (if any) lineups that can get it done on both ends of the court. The two man combination of Powell and Matt Thomas has been a major defensive liability for the Raptors through two games. As a combination, they have a -18.4% rebound percentage (via Basketball Reference). The eye test has seen teams expose them even more noticeably. The problem is that with them on the floor, you still need a point guard which will create a very small lineup – with two below average defenders on the perimeter. It would be nice to see Malachi Flynn take some of these minutes sooner than later. It isn’t easy to crack Nurses rotation, but have patience. Flynn will get his opportunity.
OG Anunoby’s offence – Concern (mostly)
In the first quarter of the first preseason game Anunoby made a behind the back dribble move on the break that had Raptors fans salivating. Between this, and Leo Rautins constant praise for Anunobys’ body, followed by a 4-year 72 million dollar contract extension – the bar was set high. Some believed that this season Anunoby could burst offensively to 15+ points per game. Early on, this hasn’t been the case. So far, he has averaged 8 points on 43.8% shooting, and 20% from the three-point line.
Most concerningly, he hasn’t been hunting shots and showing a lot of growth in his abilities. For those who expected 15+ points per game, you should be panicking. However, for those who expected around 12 points per game, you should just be patient. His three-point shooting percentage will rise, and hopefully the offence will include him more. The concern here is that Anunoby may not have added anything to his game to allow him to take a significant offensive leap this season. There is no concern that he is getting worse offensively, particularly from beyond the arc.
Getting beat by role players – Patience
We know by now that the Raptors game plan to shut down their opponents best offensive players. They haven’t done this amazingly through two games, but they have shown this is their strategy. Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, DeMar DeRozan, and LaMarcus Aldridge have been double teamed, trapped, and locked in on. The difference in 0-2 and possibly 2-0 for the Raptors, has been the opposing team’s role players.
Against the New Orleans Pelicans in was JJ Redick and Eric Beldsoe combining for 10 of 19 from three and 41 points. Against the Spurs, Patty Mills went five of six from deep and scored 21 points. If you are going to force players to beat you from outside the arc, it should be the Bledsoe types. Not shooters like Redick or Mills. Leaving these guys for wide-open threes is a recipe for disaster. A lot of this has to do with the lack of communication, but we saw Brad Wanamaker and Jaylen Brown hit these same wide open threes in the playoffs last season. The Raptors will need to adjust their schemes against teams who have three point weapons like these players.
Remember, it’s just two games. This team doesn’t lose two straight very often, but it’s still just two games. The Raptors are adjusting to new faces and a new city. It is not unfair to be concerned about some things. If there is any team that deserves patience – it’s the Toronto Raptors. They are smart, resilient, and perennial underdogs. Even if this season turns out to be a step back, they will find a way to get better from it. The players will add new skills and the team will develop chemistry. Even if they struggle, the will get a top 20 pick in the draft, which is the equivalent of gold for Masai Urjuri and the Raptors scouting staff. There are always positives to any alternative with this team. Lets see how they respond on Tuesday versus the Philadelpiha 76ers.