Raptors flay Kings in Summer League opener

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Raptors 88, Kings 47 | Box Score

Well, that was a beating. A bludgeoning. A flaying, really.

The Toronto Raptors showed up to Summer League one of the most talented, top-heavy, experienced units slated to be in Las Vegas, and they spent the first 40 minutes of their tournament making the Sacramento Kings look like, well, exactly what the Kings have looked like for the last decade or so. As we’ll repeat throughout the tournament, it’s “just” summer league, and only so much can be extrapolated. The Raptors left little room for argument that one of two conclusions can be drawn from this one: This Raptors summer squad is good, or this Kings summer squad is bad.

To which degree each of those things is true won’t be clear until later in the tournament, but for a night, this certainly seems to say a lot about the Raptors. They came in with five likely NBA players on their roster, so they should dominate, or at least play well, in this format. Some will take that grain of salt to mean the Raptors can do no good and there isn’t an upside to be plumbed here, but that’s not fair to players who are still coming out and looking to improve.

Norman Powell and Delon Wright were nearly too good for this level last summer as green rookies. A year later, it’s clear neither of them has much business being here, and that each should be looking at a bigger role in the NBA next year. A summer ago, Powell was unstoppable and could only drive north-south. With added layers to his offensive game, he was confident zigging through traffic, making the right passes, and letting fly with his three if necessary. He somehow put up 13-7-5-2 in 23 minutes, and he’ll need to keep games closer to put up more stats if he wants the MVP award. Wright, meanwhile, sees the game at a different level than most, and while he didn’t shoot particularly well, his six assists were all of the “oh, nice” variety, creating easy looks for teammates. His constant gym-selfie-Instagramming isn’t paying off quite yet when it comes to creating space inside or finishing at the rim, and the big part of his game for unlocking more playing time – shooting – wasn’t on display. Still, this was a smooth showing.

“Our expectation was that they would lead the way for us, and they did,” head coach Jama Mahlalela, undefeated as a coach, said. “The two of them, they’re our leaders. They’re going to take us as far as we can go.”

Pascal Siakam was a beneficiary, getting out in transition and cutting to the rim aggressively to score 12 first-half points before leaving with a left knee sprain.

“I don’t think it’s anything bad,” Siakam said. “It’s just a little sore right now.”

His energy was infectious and reminiscent of the impact Powell had in the tournament in 2015, and he and Jakob Poeltl helped each other out nicely on the defensive end. Both were active and aggressive, and the other was behind them if they erred, particularly in ICE situations. Poeltl showed some pretty terrific instincts when it comes to poking the ball free when being posted up, and he had a terrific block he directed straight to Wright to start an outlet. Grabbing nine rebounds and blocking three shots in 22 minutes is a good start, and the goal next game should be to get Poeltl more than three touches and see how he responds as a dive man or even in some post-up opportunities. That he only took three shots despite seven offensive rebounds is indicative of his selflessness, but looking for your own shot when you earned the possession isn’t the worst thing a rookie can do.

“I give myself, like, a C+,” Poeltl said, proving a far more difficult Quick Reaction grader than most. “Maybe today I was a little bit passive with the ball, trying to find my teammates. But a lot of those rebounds were also long, offensive boards that I kind of chased down, and then I tried to just set the offense back up. Maybe for the future, I’ve gotta look at the tape, I should be a little bit more aggressive with those balls. But I’ve said it before, I’m not the number one offensive option on this team.

That leaves Bruno Caboclo, who – and you’ll be shocked to hear this – was a mixed bag. In his third tournament, you’d hope for him to come out and at least look comfortable, but his stroke was a little errant early on. He found the handle a bit as the game progressed and finished 3-of-9 from outside – the team is fine with him taking 12 shots in 20 minutes if they’re the right ones – and his defense was a little better once he settled in. He was a plus-33 for the game, second only to Poeltl, and while some of that was happenstance, the Raptors were encouraged by his outing.

“Bruno slowed the game down for himself,” Mahlalela said. “He didn’t try and do things that he can’t do. I told him, “I’m really proud of you, Bruno. I think you played a solid, solid basketball game.’ It didn’t matter if he made or missed shots, that doesn’t matter to me. He probably shot one bad three, the rest were great threes.”

Above what any individual did, though, was what the Raptors did on the defensive end. And what they did was tie a Summer League record for the fewest points allowed in a game, holding Sacramento to 47 points, including just seven in the second quarter and six in the third. The Kings shot just 28.3 percent overall, coughed the ball up 19 times, and couldn’t make hay at the free-throw line, and the Raptors did well to limit second-chance opportunities. The end result was a pretty dominant defensive showing, exactly what the Raptors came in looking for.

“It’s what we worked on. We had three days of practice and we spent our time on defense. That’s what the Raptors do: We play defense. We lock down,” Mahlalela said. “That’s the goal that we really need to continue to aspire to as we go through the summer league, is putting defense first…We can always get better.”

That focus on defense may have manifested itself some on offense, as the Raptors kept things pretty simple. No team has much time to hammer out defensive principles in this setting, so the Raptors focusing on that end and employing some naturally gifted defenders makes a big difference.

“I feel like we have a lot of talented defensive players on our team,” Poeltl said. “We set up a couple plays, but except for that, it was all defense. I think it showed today in the game.”

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Raptors had a lead up around 40, allowing Mahlalela to empty the bench. DeAndre Daniels (a minor ankle tweak) was the only player not to get on the floor, even though Mahlalela had planned to rotate his bench players game by game to give each of them an extended look instead of short bursts, That’s a major positive – now everyone has had a chance to get comfortable, and with as many as eight games in 11 days, it’s important that no Raptor played more than 23 minutes.

The team will now have a day off – they’ll scrimmage against the Bucks – before returning to action Sunday against the Timberwolves. Armed with Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones, Adreian Payne, and familiar face Scott Suggs, the Wolves should be a better test of Toronto’s defense.

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