The Toronto Raptors are still the standalone team atop the NBA. Sitting with an overall record of 19-4 and are winners of seven straight. How did each Raptor fare individually this week? We'll take a look.
What a week in and around Toronto. The Toronto Raptors are winners of their last six, and we're starting to see more glimpses of the team's real potential, including a second-half comeback against Memphis where the defense looked outstanding, holding Conley and Co. to 43 second-half points.
What's even more outstanding about that game is Fred going perfect from the field, 6-6 for 18 points in 21 minutes, a plus-8 on the night. The only plus net rating for a bench player too. The struggles of the second unit continue.
Earlier in the week, we saw home wins against a porous Washington team void of any team kinship and an equally uninspired Miami team, the Toronto offensive unit racking up 125 points each night. We also saw the debut of the new Nike City edition uniforms against the Wizards. Regardless of how you may feel about them, I love them.
The Warriors came to town on Thursday evening for a primetime billing that did not disappoint, even with Curry and Green sidelined for the visitors. Kevin Durant pulled 51 points out his bag of tricks while Kawhi went for a season-high 37 points in an overtime thriller. The Raptors won by the way, in case you didn't already know. If this is a preview for a potential Finals match-up, you can just inject it into my veins immediately. The Raptors survived but made this game entertaining throughout.
Finally, we saw Kawhi Leonard receive his first ever technical foul in regular season hoops. That's astounding; one can only wonder what he said to a ref. That's not my place to speculate.
The big question is though; what did we see from the Raptors this week? Who flourished and who floundered?
Let's find out!
Fred VanVleet - Stock Up
Things finally look like they’re starting to click for ol’ Steady Freddie. The past week has been kind to us all as Fred looks like he’s starting to find his groove thang.
Against Washington, VanVleet looked comfortable shooting the ball and running the offense in the second unit. He finished with 13 points on 4-7 shooting, adding an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio of 7:1, that’s fine by me. A plus-23 on the night, a far cry from weeks gone past for FVV.
The Miami game wasn’t as impressive, VanVleet contributed with 10 essential points but only had four assists and three turnovers. Not a great ratio, but he shot the ball well again, and I’m more than willing to accept the turnovers for a small period, especially when he’s beginning to find his shot. It wasn’t a perfect game from Fred, but it was a minor, minor blip on a good week.
Wednesday in Memphis was the game, though. Fred announced himself back onto the big stage in crunch time for the Raptors, draining to three’s to essentially wrap the game up for Toronto. VanVleet stuck with the starters in the fourth quarter, with Danny Green benched after Green had a great game. Fred went 6-6 for the game and looked every bit as good as his Sixth Man of the Year candidate campaign last season.
Admittedly, Fred did struggle against the Warriors last night, having zero points in 14 minutes of action. That's an issue, but Fred has shown he's capable of bouncing back from poor outings, I expect him to bounce back from this.
Fred VanVleet had an up-and-down week. Considering how he has played this season, that's an improvement.
Kyle Lowry - Stock Up
Lowry is back probably a week later than he should have been, but he’s here. When the Raptors win, they win through Lowry.
That’s exactly how it’s been recently.
Lowry hasn’t shot the ball well in weeks past despite a highly efficient start to the season, his three-point percentage plummeting to 36-percent on the season. In the last few games, Kyle is looking like he has his stroke back, hitting 8-18 from deep against the Wizards, Heat, and Grizzlies.
Moreover, he’s still leading the NBA in assists at 10.3 per game, the only player in double digits for the season. He’s moving the ball around comfortably in the offense and has found his role as the facilitator of the Raptors, his IQ has always been at a high-level but since DeRozan has moved on it looks like another level of wizardry. His deep passes in transition to the bombing Siakam were a thing of beauty against the Heat. Lowry is a true maestro.
The Miami game served as a reminder that Lowry doesn’t even need to shoot the ball well to dominate the game, he had 10 assists and 12 points, all while turning the ball over only once, that’s not even fair, but I love it. His shooting came into effect against Memphis though, going 5-8 from downtown and finishing with 24 points, easy money Kyle.
Another point and assist double-double for Lowry appeared against the Warriors on Thursday night, including a huge shot down the stretch - right after turning down a wide open three in the fourth. Just when you think it's not going to work out, Lowry pulls something out of nowhere. A huge defensive play, knocking the ball out of Andre Iguodala's grips late in overtime to almost ice the game. Only one turnover on his 12 assists for the game too, that's some nice reading again.
Lowry also ranks fifth in real plus-minus for the season, pretty indicative of the player we’re seeing this season. Say it with me, everybody.."M.V.P, M.V.P!"
Delon Wright - Stock Down
Although this wasn’t the worst week in the world for Delon Wright, it might have been one of his better ones so far this year. But it’s been wildly inconsistent, and that’s a big issue.
This is more of a reminder that Delon actually plays for Toronto, he just looks like he’s been M.I.A, or doesn’t look like it..anyway, this week was a further reminder that Delon hasn’t done much damage by playing, but his contributions have been limited to next to nothing.
He is shooting 41-percent from three, which is nice but it’s early, and that number will likely regress, especially if Delon starts to rack up the minutes - which, in fairness, hasn’t happened yet.
As of this moment, Wright is averaging 16 minutes a game, and it looks like Nick Nurse is hesitant to hand him a heavier workload, in turn, Wright is looking clunky and just downright out of sorts. After missing five games early on this season, maybe Nurse is just a bit hesitant to risk Wright this early on, but that seems unlikely as we head into the second quarter of the season.
Delon’s numbers are down on the year, only moderately but it’s evident his impact on the court has taken a huge hit. Still a confident rebounder and passing of the ball, Wright is seeing less usage in the offense as well. Last season his usage rate was 16.7-percent, tenth on the team, and while this season’s percentage has only dropped to 15.9-percent, the number could likely continue to fall as VanVleet’s play picks up.
Things did pick up a bit for Wright on Thursday night, out of the whole bench unit he was the one who stood out. Eight points on 66-percent shooting including 2-2 from downtown. Things might start to turn around for Delon after this one, let's hope so.
Kawhi Leonard - Stock Up
Here he is, our player of the week, Kawhi Leonard.
No surprises here, if I’m honest. Leonard is looking more and more comfortable as each week passes. Maybe he can start to look like a legitimate M.V.P candidate, but for now, I’m fine with what he’s producing.
Nurse is starting to loosen the reigns on his prized asset at little more frequently, Leonard ranks eighth in the league in isolation percentage and is averaging 0.97 points per iso possession. That ranks in around the 56th percentile, there’s an obvious improvement to be had, but get him in a consistent pick-and-roll game with Ibaka or JV, that’s where the real money is.
Leonard started the week hot, accumulating 27 points and 10 rebounds against a beleaguered Wizards unit. The Wizards did all they could to keep the game interesting, but Leonard was on hand to put the sword in Washington when necessary. He also received his first ever regular season technical foul, for arguing a no-call. By the way, how much contact does Kawhi absorb when driving to the rim?!
He stepped up his game against Miami on Sunday evening, his 29-point, 10 rebound outing was his sixth double-double of the season, and he essentially killed the game with a late steal of Dwayne Wade, who turned back the clock and looked fantastic by the way. Leonard was "held" to 17 points and still grabbed another 10 boards, a fairly quiet double-double but Leonard made the shots count as the Raptors came from behind in the second half.
Kawhi stepped up big time against the Warriors, shooting a sexy 37 points on 14-24 and 3-6 from three. Leonard had a tough time against Durant and did force him into taking some absurd shots, Durant, however, made those shots. He did have a nice block against Durant in the first half too, and forced a turnover late into overtime, clawing the ball out of Durant's hands, much to the excitement of the Scotiabank Arena.
Leonard is finding his rhythm and becoming the player we all remember from a few seasons ago, a defensive superstar with the ability to win games all by himself. It helps that he has a stellar cast around him too.
Big things are around the corner ladies and gentlemen.