Each week we bring you the most important play, stat, or moment from every Toronto Raptors game. This week’s highlights include Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s emergence, Marc Gasol might be finished, and more.
After a tremendous start to the season, the Toronto Raptors cooled off a little in week four. It wasn’t a disastrous week, finishing 1-2 after losing two close games against tough opponents. However, it’s the coldest stretch of the young season so far for a Raptors team that has been spectacular early on.
And in those losses, we learned a lot about this Toronto Raptors team. What did we learn from every game this week?
The Raptors know how to stop the primary option
So far this season, the Raptors have played five players who made an All-NBA team last season. — Kemba Walker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, and Kawhi Leonard. As a whole, they’re averaging under 20 points per game and shooting below 40-percent from the field.
Toronto has made it a priority to stop opposing primary scorers, sending occasional double teams and “blitzing” the pick-and-roll with two defenders. The best example of this was Monday against the Clippers when Toronto took Leonard completely out of the game.
Leonard finished with 12 points on 2-11 shooting with NINE turnovers. He’s potentially the best player in the world, and the Raptors forced him into nearly as many turnovers as points.
The Clippers ended up winning the game against a Raptors team which ran out of gas on the second night of a road back-to-back. But Toronto’s strategy of blitzing and doubling the pick-and-roll proved effective nonetheless. Expect them to continue to use this strategy throughout the season.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson belongs in the rotation until further notice
No team wants to deal with injuries. And obviously, the losses of Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka have been detrimental to the Raptors’ ability to win games. But if Toronto can survive this next stretch without falling behind in the standings, the injuries might have been a blessing in disguise.
Ibaka’s and Lowry’s absence has helped the Raptors find a surprising amount of depth behind the frontlines. Terence Davis, Chris Boucher, and of course, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have all taken advantage of excess playing time.
The most important performance was against the Portland Trail Blazers. With OG Anunoby out, Hollis-Jefferson stepped up. The combo forward scored 16 points on 6-8 shooting, with 11 rebounds EIGHT of which were offensive.
One way to think of it is that he generated eight shots off offensive rebounds. With those eight shots, he scored 16 points. Hollis-Jefferson added 16 points without taking anything off the table (Yes, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but still).
Hollis-Jefferson has been fantastic as of late. And he appears to have carved out a niche in the rotation not only during Ibaka’s absence but when he returns as well.
Marc Gasol might be done as a scorer
Compared to his skill level, Marc Gasol has never been a dominant scorer. Even when he was All-NBA, the skilled seven-footer never averaged 20 points per game. Instead, he’s impacted the game on defense, with spectacular passing, and by stretching the floor. He could score, but he didn’t need to score.
Well, what happens when he can’t score at all? Gasol’s scoring volume has taken a precipitous drop since coming to the Raptors. So far this season, he’s averaging just 8.4 points per 36 minutes.
Against the Dallas Mavericks, we saw his warts on full display. He finished 1-7 from the field, including 0-5 from 2-point range. His poor percentage within the arc was largely due to him throwing up looks like this:
At the moment, Gasol is shooting 27-percent within the 3-point arc, and he’s just 8-22 within five feet. Sadly, we might have seen the last of Marc Gasol as a scorer.
Gasol can still impact the games in other ways, but if he’s not able to be at least a nominal threat around the basket it will be tough to play him major minutes. It’s too early to say for sure, but what we’ve seen so far is not ideal.
Make sure to check-in to Raptors Rapture next week to see what we’ve learned from every game.