Confident: OG Anunoby is not afraid to shoot, or at least not anymore. He matched his career-high with 16 points thanks to four corner threes. Anunoby’s shot preparation was solid as he got his feet set, which helps a lot since his regular shooting motion features a lot of moving parts. Anunoby also worked in two dunks, including a putback near the end of the game.
Casey is in a tough spot because of the financial commitments Toronto has made to Ibaka and Valanciunas. The Raptors will likely have both players on the hook for the next two seasons, and neither would be comfortable coming off the bench. The Raptors have been trying to trade Valanciunas for a while, but there’s not much of a market for a traditional center owed as much as $50 million, depending on whether he picks up his player option for 2019–20. There’s no urgency to make a move. Toronto is the no. 3 seed in the East, and they have the third-best net rating (plus-7.6) in the league. They could muddle through in the regular season without changing their lineup. However, if they fall behind in a playoff series, Casey will likely bench Valanciunas, just like he did last season.
He could go in a lot of different directions. The Raptors have more talented players than they can use. As Lucas Nogueira and Delon Wright sit out with injuries, Jakob Poeltl and Fred VanVleet have been able to step right in without missing a beat. Poeltl, the no. 9 pick in the 2016 draft, and VanVleet, an undrafted free agent from Wichita State whom they signed last season, have been plus-minus machines. Poeltl is a skilled 7-footer who can score and make plays out of the pick-and-roll, while VanVleet is a knockdown shooter who moves the ball and always seems to be in the right spot to make a play.
Their most interesting lineup might be putting a perimeter-oriented big man like Pascal Siakam, the no. 27 pick in the 2016 draft, next to Ibaka. At 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Siakam can play as a 4 or a small-ball 5, and he’s comfortable in a free-flowing offense. His assist rate (11.3 percent) is higher than Valanciunas and Ibaka’s combined. He’s not a good 3-point shooter, but it wouldn’t be hard to hide him in a lineup with so many other perimeter threats. On defense, he’s capable of switching screens and staying in front of smaller players, and he can block shots and compete on the boards
“We’ve talked about it a lot,” Jakob Poeltl said of the focus on ball movement. “We’ve worked on it a lot and it’s paying off. It’s as easy as that. It’s not like (Lowry) and (DeMar DeRozan) are the only guys scoring on our team. Everybody is scoring. We are moving the ball and it’s fun to play that way.”
The game featured a career-high four three-pointers from rookie OG Anunoby, who finished with career-high tying 16 points, but was probably most impressive locking down Devin Booker, who he held scoreless from the field in the first half.
Booker would leave the game late in the fourth, carried off with what team officials were suggesting was an adductor muscle tear, similar to the one DeRozan had three years ago.
The Raptors also made franchise history in this one holding the Suns without an offensive rebound in the game.
“During the film session before the game and even yesterday we really talked about that,” Poeltl said of the Suns penchant for going hard on the offensive boards. “They really tried to have us dialled in on their bigs and boxing them out. I guess we just got good bounces and good boxouts tonight.”
In yet another instance of Toronto embracing its new egalitarian approach to offense, seven Raptors hit double figures for the second-straight game. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan led the way, as they do, with 20 each. Lowry’s first quarter was particularly delightful as he reveled in the pronounced height advantage he had over Suns starter Tyler Ulis, roasting the teeny tiny man boy for 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the opening 12 minutes.
With 15 threes on 36 attempts and 30 assists, and a 115.6 offensive rating, the Raptors are well past surprising anyone with their revamped offensive system. It’s become predictable in the best way possible.
What might not have been expected about Tuesday’s game was Serge Ibaka’s performance. Serge this year has been … let’s say … selectively attentive. His activity rises and falls, typically in line with the height of leverage in a given game. So naturally, he played his heart out against the daunting front court matchup of Marquese Chriss and Greg Monroe.
With Dikembe Mutombo in attendance for Giants of Africa Night at the ACC, Ibaka paid the four-time Defensive Player of the Year plenty of tribute, racking up three blocks, one of which inspired this Mutombo shout out.
Anunoby, on the other hand, is giving the Raptors a ton on defence. His one-on-one defence is tremendous. Devin Booker was terrific against Philadelphia on Monday, but Anunoby helped set the tone on him early, mirroring him as he tried to take it to the rim. The Raptors mixed up their coverages, but Booker shot just 4-for-15 before suffering a scary adductor injury late in the game. Anunoby was a big reason why. You cannot half-ass anything against the kid.
Anunoby is still not perfect. He has not been very effective against smaller, more slithery wing players such as Washington’s Bradley Beal and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. He is better against bigger, more physical players.
“Guarding the pick-and-roll. Guarding those actions, pick-and-roll actions, pin-down actions, multiple schemes, you know, pin-down into a pick-and-roll, (knowing) which direction are you sending him: All those things that he’s learning to do,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Stationary, he’s good. Just playing one-on-one in a stationary situation, he’s got that. But learning those multiple actions and then guarding, that is his next level.”
Casey speaks the truth. Anunoby picked up his second foul in the first quarter after trying to split through the pass and the screen, barrelling into T.J. Warren as a result.
By simply playing and staying healthy, Anunoby has already exceeded expectations. However, he has also been a pleasant surprise on offence, mostly staying in his lane. He is now hitting 38 per cent of his three-pointers, most of which are well-selected.
He’s one of the most skilled players in the League in terms of shotmaking ability, footwork & getting to the line, he’s also a master in the midrange like Kobe. In terms of getting buckets I can’t think of many perimeter players better than him at it.
Yet it feels like something’s missing in his game. His advanced stats aren’t the best & I feel like he should be averaging 29/30 PPG easy with his talent.
Donnovan Bennett and J.D. Bunkis deliver a one-stop shop for all your Toronto Raptors talk and take listeners around the NBA with assists from the biggest names — and one-of-a-kind characters — from across the Association.
Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis discuss the strong play of Fred VanVleet during the absence of Delon Wright.
The guys tip off the show by talking about the Raptors’ impressive record and upcoming soft schedule (2:25).
Later they debate who the NBA’s MVP frontrunner is thus far (7:10).
At the end of the podcast the guys discuss the play of VanVleet (12:10) and which Raptors player would be the last man standing in a Royal Rumble (29:25).
In Episode 239 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley chats with Joe Wolfond (The Score) about what they think the upside — and downside — of Toronto’s six-most intriguing young guys might be.
“I’m definitely a basketball player and I can play a lot of positions, especially if I can guard people,” the six-foot-nine Siakam said. “I’m working on my lateral quickness and things like that. That’s just going to help me the way the game’s going right now, just to not have a position, you know? Just play and be able to guard different positions. And as my shot evolves, it’s going to give me more things to do.”
It’s how also how coach Dwane Casey sees it after suggesting Siakam might eventually be able to play against what’s known today as shooting guards or small forwards.
“He was able to guard (Indiana’s) Lance Stephenson on the perimeter and I think that’s his future, to be more of a long, two-three defender as well as a four,” Casey said. “He’s got the skill set and the athleticism to be able to do that.”
Siakam doesn’t possess the shooting skills yet to play too many positions but his defensive skills and athleticism do make him a multi-dimensional defender.
“I don’t want to limit myself to just be an energy guy or whatever it might be,” the 23-year-old Siakam said. “I want to expand my game, and I’m a hard worker, so I believe that all the time I spend in the gym, I might as well use that to develop my game. If you think about it, I started playing basketball late, so I have a lot of things I have to learn, and I’m still learning every day.”
Raptors president Masai Ujiri held another tribute to Nelson Mandela with his Giants of Africa organization and talks about the things and people that inspire him to continue his efforts.
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