Sure, we’re nine games in and we’re all wearing rose-colored glasses a la Mitch Hedberg right now, but these Raptors sure seem legit. A lot of skeptics point out that the Celtics are still finding their footing in the midst of returning personnel. But, so what? So are the Raptors, in essence. Now, it is very close. The Celtics have gone on a run as of late, but they are scraping out victories. The Raptors are dominating. They’re undefeated with Kawhi in the lineup, beating up on opponents by an average of close to twelve points in those victories. Simply put, they can match Boston offensively and their overall defensive game gives them the slight edge.
So far, early predictions of Siakam being the next big thing are not appearing to be lofty. This young man only started playing basketball seriously in 2012. His ceiling is mega high, like the foyer of a downtown office tower featuring some kind of ornate waterfall. The past three games, he’s averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds and close to eighty-five miles per hour on the fast break. He has his giraffe-on-ice moments out there, but the energy he brings to the lineup is undeniable. The comparisons with other NBA stars, be it Draymond Green or what have you, need to stop. Simply let P. Skills blossom into whatever unique player he is destined to become.
Competition (or lack thereof)
Outside Boston, other contenders for the silver medal include: Houston, Milwaukee, San Antonio(?), Portland(?), Utah(?), Denver(??) and the Lakers(???). Those question marks don’t convey confidence in case that wasn’t clear. Again, we are early, but shouldn’t there be some sort of consistent trajectory to start the year? Recall the 2012 Lakers adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Everyone just kept waiting for them to turn their crappy season around. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. It’s very early to pass judgment with conviction, but adding a 34-year-old self-entitled Melo to any team is a bad idea. The Lakers look awful and it’s difficult to gauge just how good the Bucks are. At least their biggest piece is on the fresher side of thirty. They have clearly improved, but just how much is still up for debate. Plus, the Celtics told them to back off last night in a mini statement game. Is it worthwhile to push the breadth of this discussion further at this point? Likely not. The chips will start to fall more clearly in the coming months.
The entirety of this argument ostensibly comes down to Kawhi. See the most recent post-game interview where Nick Nurse gushes over his star player. Nurse’s sentiment revolved around Kawhi being absolutely terrific in every aspect of the game. Ben Simmons, an insane athlete in his own right replied, “He’s a freak”, when leaned on to discuss the Kawhi’s defensive disruption following Tuesday’s shellacking. On offense, he is equally as impressive. It’s like when you find out the super good-looking classmate is on the Dean’s list and spends weekends volunteering down at the soup kitchen. Kawhi does it tall. He is so efficient with the ball, deft in his decision-making. He can get his shot off whenever he wants and knows when to drop a dime to his teammates – of which there are plenty of reliable ones. It feels great to have absolute confidence in someone to consistently make plays toward the end of game.
That’s not to say Demar and Kyle couldn’t do that, but Kawhi’s clearly at another level. He’s the best player on a contender. Those guys are the best players on a good team – but not a great team. Or as it stands in the case of Kyle, the second best player on a great team. Kyle has blossomed considerably in that role, becoming an assist machine. This version of the Raptors is a great team right now, through and through, with Kawhi’s overall skillset emblematic of the entire team. They’re ahead of the rest of the pack right now with room to grow. Good thing the ceiling is so high.