The boys are back.
The Toronto Raptors opened up the 2017-18 preseason with a 121-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Always good to get a win over Austin Rivers, preseason or otherwise.
Toronto’s starters did the heavy-lifting in their first and third quarter shifts and the young talent did their job to get a win at the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sherriff Centre.
Kyle Lowry led the way on offence. He only took five shots, four of them were threes, and he made 3. Lowry shot 8-8 from the line to bring his total to 17 points. Jonas Valanciunas was solid, finishing with 10 points, 10 rebounds and four (!) assists.
Of course, the necessary “it’s only preseason” caveats apply, but let’s talk Raptors. Here’s what we saw.
Starters look solid
Toronto’s starters put together an inspiring shift to open the season. On average, preseason ball is tough to watch but the Raptors rejigged offence looked coherent to open things. Kyle Lowry, looking fit as ever, was his bulldog self. DeRozan showed his typical crafty play. Some things don’t change.
What stood out was the passing. We won’t get passing numbers because there’s no SportVU data for this game, but the ball zipped around more and the stars were more willing to give it up.
And we have a real player starting at the three, which is really nice. C.J. Miles is as advertised – fluid, quick shot, capable going to the rim. It’s one game, but you can see why he was brought. on. He slots in real nice.
The #JVHive just got some good tape for their boy as Jonas put together one of his finer all-around games on offence. Valanciunas dropped four dimes, an impressive number considering he’s never had more than three in a regular season game. Magic Jonas is the future.
Changes to the offence
One of the big takeaways from media day was the insistence that Toronto would take more threes this season. Casey wasn’t lying: the Raps put up 43 attempts, led by Serge Ibaka with nine looks from distance. 43 is a staggering number: Toronto averaged 24.3 3PA/G last year, and the Houston Rockets took the most threes per game last year with 43. I don’t expect that number to hold, but they made a statement with that attempt number.
Toronto’s assist total is a welcome sight from the first preseason game. After finishing last in assists per game last year with 18.5, the Raptors had 22 on 39 makes. That’s about average compared to last seasons numbers, but it’s a step in the right direction either way.
Retooled bench needs reps (but we knew that)
We will rarely, if ever, see the all-bench units we witnessed and after tonight’s game, I can’t picture any Raptors fans calling for them. Dwane Casey rolled out a Wright/Powell/Caboclo/Siakam/Nogueira line-up multiple times in this game and the results were less than stellar. That shouldn’t be too surprising; Norm is the only NBA-proven shooter, and when he works the pick and roll, the spacing is shot.
There was a special kind of chaos with the bench units in the second quarter. Yes, the ball moved, but not with any purpose. Guys drive beat their man, but lack a plan on the way to the rim, resulting in some unexpected kick-outs. Granted, the Clippers were playing a pretty experienced line-up.
This stretch suggested that one of Lowry or DeRozan will be needed on-court to give the bench guys direction, which is fine in a vacuum, but means there is less flexibility to cut down on their minutes And if the first quarter struggles from recent seasons continue, you don’t have time to test out different line-ups or give guys opportunities to learn because you’re playing catch-up. This isn’t supposed to be any kind of revelation, just saying “hey, some things haven’t changed (yet).”
Norm had some great moments though. The Clippers were intent on ICEing Powell, but his long strides and lengthy wingspan put defenders on their heels and Powell finished well around the rim. I’m not sure how long we’ll seem teams defend Norm this way. His third-quarter dunk is also extremely worth your time.
The wing rotation gets a little clearer
C.J. Miles and Norm Powell both played well and one game does not make or break the rotation, but you could see the thought process from the coaching staff. Miles in the starting line-up gives a quick trigger shooter. Norm comes off the bench as an aggressive scoring punch that you can give the ball to if you need a drive. Powell’s ability as a creator remains a question mark, but I don’t think Toronto needs that from him right now.
Bruno Caboclo’s future is also becoming clearer: he is not an NBA player. He finished with six points on 2-8 shooting, and a good number of those shots were open threes coming from pass-outs following an offensive rebounds. This has to be the shot Bruno makes: if he can’t make an unguarded three catching the ball rhythm, what can we expect him to do? His only two-point field goal attempt was a right-handed lay-up which he air-balled. He had four turnovers. Bruno really doesn’t do anything at an NBA level.
This isn’t a surprising revelation but it is a disappointing one because we still have a hole in the rotation. O.G. Anunoby did not play, and while signs point to the rookie being ahead of schedule, the team has been tight-lipped on his timeline.
Toronto will have to continue to experiment at the wing spot to find out a solution to the lack of depth. Dwane Casey has the opportunity to do that on Wednesday Oct. 4 when they play the Clippers again in Hawaii.