So, about that new offense. The Toronto Raptors have at times looked like the new team they profess to want to be on the offensive end of the floor, with a surge in pace, passing, and shots that flow directly from passes (assist opportunities). The first four games were encouraging, but as this six-game trip has dragged on, warning signs have materialized. It was never going to be a perfect or seamless transition void of setbacks, and the Raptors remain 15th in pace-adjusted passes and pace-adjusted assist opportunities. (That they haven’t hit any threes – a lot of that is variance, even after seven games of sample – has made things look worse at times.)
Their resolve will be tested Friday against an elite defense that will throw length at ball-handlers, disrupt passing lanes, and try to make the rim off limits. Rudy Gobert is as elite a rim-protector as they come and early analytics darling Ekpe Udoh is a pretty nice backup, Ricky Rubio has long been underrated defensively, and the Jazz force a ton of turnovers without sending opponents to the free-throw line, a difficult balance to strike and one that flies in the face of how the Raptors have scored over the past half-decade.
Friday should be a good indicator of how the new approach can hold up against an elite defense, or at least how the Raptors respond in terms of commitment to the plan if points are hard to come by early. It’s also a chance to close out a tough six-game trip with a .500 record, not a necessity but a worthwhile goal early in the year. Things get easier soon – the Raptors have the easiest travel schedule the rest of the way – but they remain tough for 48 more minutes.
The game tips off at 9 on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 590. You can check out the full game preview here.
The Raptors are struggling to maintain a full squad immediately after getting back to that status. Wednesday’s game saw Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka return for a full contingent of 14 players – sorry about the inactive, Bruno – but Friday could see them down a body once more. C.J. Miles missed shootaround due to an illness and is being listed as questionable for this one.
If Miles can’t go, his role figures to be absorbed by committee. The starters could end up playing a shade more, and the real winner may be whichever one or two bigs figured to drop out of the rotation – OG Anunoby could very well slide up a spot in the second unit, freeing additional forward minutes for Pascal Siakam, or even opening up an opportunity for some low-minute dual-center looks. Normally, that wouldn’t be a consideration, but Dwane Casey suggested earlier in the week that he’d run a wider rotation at the tail end of the trip and he’s spoken highly of Siakam during his recent stretch.
More Casey on Siakam. "He is cool and calm with the ball, defensively he is really doing a good job in the switching schemes."
— Mike Ganter (@Mike_Ganter) November 3, 2017
Lineups with Anunoby and Siakam together could be a lot of fun defensively. There’s also a chance Casey opts to keep the frontcourt rotation as it was earlier in the trip and instead give the extra wing minutes to Alfonzo McKinnie or Bruno Caboclo. Or that Miles just guts it out and plays.
Check back before tip-off for an update on Miles.
UPDATE: No Miles tonight, per Eric Smith of Sportsnet.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Alfonzo McKinnie
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: C.J. Miles
905: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown
Had you looked at the schedule and saw the Jazz at the start of the season, a terrible thought may have popped into your head: Joe Johnson, Seven-Time All-Star, Armadillo Cowboy, giving the Raptors those buckets once more. Johnson has put up 18.2 points per-game against the Raptors in his career, more than against any other opponent. He’a also broken their backs with some big, big shots. The Raptors will avoid him here, though, as Johnson is sidelined with a wrist injury. Toronto gets a reprieve.
Dante Exum is also on the shelf with an AC joint injury, which has turned the backup point guard position into a bit of a positionless question mark. Donovan Mitchell and Alec Burks both have some skill on or off the ball and can play together or with Ricky Rubio, and Raul Neto looms as a depth option if necessary. However it shakes down, there is length to challenge Kyle Lowry and some solid wing defense to throw at DeMar DeRozan. It’s no surprise the Jazz are as good as they are defensively given the individual talent here.
PG: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Raul Neto
SG: Rodney Hood, Alec Burks
SF: Joe Ingles, Thabo Sefolosha, Royce O’Neale
PF: Derrick Favors, Jonas Jerebko
C: Rudy Gobert, Ekpe Udoh, Tony Bradley
OUT: Dante Exum, Joe Johnson
Salt Lake City: Nate Wolters, Eric Griffin
- This is a meeting between the two teams tied atop the NBA with seven international players apiece.
- As pointed out by Chris Black earlier today, Kyle Lowry has scored under 20 points in seven consecutive games. Doing so again here would extend that streak to match his longest sub-20 stretch as a Raptor.
- Fuelling that to a large degree is Lowry’s sub-20 percent usage rate, which is the lowest it’s been since his second-to-last year in Houston.
- The Raptors return home after this one, and later this month we’re giving away another pair of tickets with InTheActionSeats.com:
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) October 21, 2017
- Here’s an interesting story on Kyle Lowry finding his way to golf as an adult.
- Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright were making sandwiches for the homeless in Utah yesterday as part of a charity event that was also seeking winter clothing donations.
— Brittany Copeland (@brittanydiehl) November 3, 2017
The Raptors are 2-point underdogs, which is a pretty modest line considering the potential fatigue for Toronto and the roughly 3.5-point edge to the home side (basically, the Raptors would be favored on neutral court). The-over under is at 195 and has hung within a point of there all day.