The NBA and Toronto Raptors are back in action with pre-season games kicking off the coming 2020/21 season. If the preseason is about preparation for the coming regular season, there were positive trends on display by the Raptors in their two-game stay in Charlotte.
The NBA’s 2020 playoffs and bubble in Florida did not end that long ago, but the Toronto Raptors just completed their first two pre-season games for the 2020/21 season. With Toronto beating the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte, 111-100 Saturday night and 112-109 on Monday night, it was a success.
Kyle Lowry did not make the trip sparking speculation about his future with the team. However, the rest of the team performed admirably in his absence. No one scored more than Matt Thomas‘s 16 points, but 17 players scored at least two points for Toronto in Saturday night’s victory. On Monday, Fred VanVleet and rookie Malachi Flynn led the way with 23 and 17 points in a 112-109 victory.
There were trends in these games that leave a very positive feeling for Raptors’ fans concerned about the team’s fortunes this coming season.
Toronto Raptors still a defensive juggernaut.
The Toronto Raptors have been a strong team defensively for a while, and 2020’s second-best defensive team in the NBA still has the ability to lock down its opponents. Several defensive breakdowns need to be cleaned up, but holding your opponent to 209 points is impressive for the first two preseason games.
It equates to an average of 104.5 points allowed per game, which is lower than the 106.5 per game the Raptors allowed last season.
Toronto held the Charlotte Hornets to 42.3 percent shooting over the two-game series and limited them to 82 shots overall each game. The Raptors also forced 22 turnovers on Saturday night and 26 on Monday night. Saturday night, they forced16 steals and blocked eight shots – three a piece by Paul Watson and Chris Boucher. On Monday night, the Raptors procured another 13 steals.
With the changes to the roster that were made less than three weeks ago, it’s a good sign that the Toronto Raptors continue to dominate teams at the defensive end of the court.
The three-point shot is the dagger the Raptors live by
Under head coach Nick Nurse the Toronto Raptors have upped their three-point shooting dramatically. However, if you take the shot, you need to make it, and the Raptors connected on 19/52 (36.5 percent) three-pointers Saturday night.
The three-pointer represented nearly 52 percent of the Toronto Raptors points vs. Charlotte. The 52 attempts also represented 57 percent of their total field goals taken. The Toronto Raptors are designed to fire away from long range, with Matt Thomas making four threes and Malachi Flynn and Pascal Siakam contributing three each.
Monday, the Toronto Raptors connected on 15/44 three-point attempts, which were not quite as good as their average on Saturday night. However, over the two-games, they took 96 three-point attempts out of 174 total shots attempted. In the two games in Charlotte, the Toronto Raptors took 55.1 percent of their shot attempts from behind the three-point arc.
Next man up
The Toronto Raptors suffered a lot of injuries last season. It did not slow down their style and quality of play as they won 53 games. The phrase “next man up” was coined to represent each team member’s professionalism and readiness when their number was called to step up and replace an injured teammate.
Saturday night was another example of this trend continuing. Matt Thomas, a deadly sharpshooter, but stuck on the team’s depth chart behind Norman Powell and Terence Davis, who has legal troubles, scored 16 points in 22 minutes on 4/7 three-point shooting. If the NBA suspends Terence Davis for his alleged domestic
violence case, Matt Thomas could claim those minutes vacated by Davis.
However, Terence Davis isn’t letting his legal troubles affect his game as he tallied 27 points over the two games in a total of 32 minutes of playing time, while Matt Thomas had just two points on Monday night in Charlotte.
Matt Thomas was not alone in this category of next man up as Malachi Flynn, the 29th selection at the 2020 NBA Draft scored nine points on 3/6 shooting on three-pointers with four assists on Saturday. Flynn showed strong defensive tendencies in his 19 plus minutes of court time and was a +35.
Flynn followed that performance up with a strong showing of 17 points and three assists in 20 minutes in Monday’s game.
The Toronto Raptors will play their final pre-season game against the Miami Heat in Tampa Bay on Friday, and their regular-season debut will be on December 23rd vs. the New Orleans Pelicans.