After years of regular-season domination, it might be time to recalibrate our expectations for the Toronto Raptors.
Week one of the NBA season has come and gone, and the start to the campaign for the Toronto Raptors has been anything but inspiring. They find themselves two games under .500 for the first time in seven years, with both losses coming against non-playoff teams nonetheless.
To be fair, it is only two games, which is way too early to be pushing any panic buttons.
After all, the Toronto Raptors have played more games over the past 24 months than any team in the league, so fatigue could be in play. They’ve also lost significant pieces in the middle, which has hurt the defense (something we all saw coming).
Still, excuses are excuses, and the fact is the Toronto Raptors have come out flat. If you’ve watched these first two games, it’s hard not to at least acknowledge the feeling that this team might just not be that good this year.
For starters, well, let’s look at the starters.
Pascal Siakam’s numbers through two games have been good, but he’s still making the same mistakes that plagued him in the bubble and before play got suspended last season. He forces too many ill-advised shots, he’s downright terrible making quick decisions out of the double team, and he turns the ball over at an alarming rate – he has 9 through the first two contests.
It seems in general that the playbook is out on him across the league. Meaning teams know what he wants to do and how to stop it. Case in point; in the latest loss to San Antonio when the Toronto Raptors led by 4 with under two minutes to play. Siakam recklessly flailed into the lane like a 9th grader who just learned how to dribble. Patty Mills then stepped in and drew an easy charge, essentially leaving the door open for the Spurs to come back and win.
Siakam has done some good things so far as his numbers dictate, but it’s becoming more and more clear that if he’s your number one option on offense, your team might be in serious trouble.
Aron Baynes, the replacement for Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka looked fine on paper. In practice, however, there seems to be a gaping hole in the middle. Baynes just doesn’t provide the same level of defense that’s been lost from the combination of Gasol’s positioning and communication and Ibaka’s rim protection.
He is averaging 12.0 points and 8.0 boards which are respectable numbers, but he isn’t the same scoring threat as Ibaka, nor the passing threat Gasol was at the top of the key.
Next, there’s OG Anunoby, who hasn’t yet shown he’s made the next step on offense many fans believed he would make. There’s no reason to give up hope on OG after just one week, but if he can’t step up to carry more of a load this year then the team will have a clear ceiling.
Especially with the age of Kyle Lowry creeping up. Lowry still looks feisty as ever, but at age 34, and with the way he sacrifices his body on defense, it’s unfair and unwise to expect him to carry the offense night in and night out like he did in the postseason last year.
Fred VanVleet’s ascension helps with that, a lot, but the team still feels a player short in terms of playmaking. Anunoby must do more to take the pressure off of Lowry, VanVleet, and Siakam for this team to be successful.
One could go on and on about what the Raptors haven’t done in the first two games of the season, but the real question is how can it change moving forward?
The Toronto Raptors still have the best coach in the NBA, and Nick Nurse will undoubtedly go deep into his book of schemes to make the most out of this group. Norman Powell — the team’s third-leading scorer from a year ago — has been sleepwalking since the beginning of the preseason, and his production should return to its normal level as the season presses on.
The Toronto Raptors also have been atrocious from three-point land so far (Don’t believe me, just rewatch the third quarter from opening night against New Orleans). That should ascend back to the norm as well.
Chris Boucher has been a nice bright spot in an increased role. He was simply outstanding in the loss to the Spurs. Look for him to get more and more minutes, particularly down the stretch of games as the season moves along.
Nurse also has a card in his back pocket named Malachi Flynn. The rookie has yet gotten any burn so far this season, something fans are already questioning after a good preseason showing. Flynn could provide a boost if and when Nurse decides to trust him with some real playing time.
All that is well and good, but none of these things seem like they can move the needle enough to elevate this roster above many of the teams in the east that now sit in front of them. Could the Toronto Raptors be in the market for a potential James Harden trade? That remains to be seen. They certainly have the pieces to make it work and if history has shown us anything, it’s that they’re not afraid to take a risk on a distressed superstar.
Until that happens, however (if it ever does), this is the team the Toronto Raptors are running with moving forward.
Let’s get something straight, it is only two games, and no one expected them to compete for a championship this year. Still, it’s somewhat jarring to see what’s transpired so far for a fanbase that’s become accustomed to winning basketball.
Unless the Raptors improve their play from week one, a top-six seed in an improved Eastern conference may be less attainable than we all thought.