An early season Raptors win over Boston shifted the narrative away from the presumption the Celtics would run away with the East’s top seed. Tonight the 76ers, the other preseason team earmarked to contend arrives to test their mettle versus Toronto.
Entering the 2018-19 campaign the triumvirate of teams expected to vie for the Eastern Conference top seed was the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. Following the loss in Milwaukee, without their star Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup the Bucks showcased why they deservedly should be added to the conversation.
First of all, let’s put the loss to the Bucks in perspective — Toronto wasn’t going to win all 82 games. Like the Bucks, the Raptors were missing their best player (Kawhi Leonard) along with two key contributors in OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet. On top of this, Kyle Lowry who has arguably been the best and most consistent Raptor through the first six games had a poor shooting night. And, outside of Serge Ibaka and Danny Green player performances were not comparable to their previous outings.
Being of the glass half full persuasion I look for the silver lining in these situations. To that end, a loss at this precise point in the season could be viewed as convenient timing. It serves to remind the Raptors roster there is plenty of work left to be accomplished on both sides of the hardwood. The personalities on this club aren’t necessarily ones who would buy into the uncharacteristic national (and well earned) praise reaped upon them, but this loss punctuates the need for additional time to gel and continued growth.
Returning to the task at hand, the 76ers arrive in Toronto looking to make their own statement and present another early litmus test for Toronto. With that let’s examine the keys for the Raptors to get back in the win column.
Kawhi Leonard back:
The last time Leonard rested (Washington Wizards) his return to the court produced debatably his most fluid in a Raptors jersey, particularly offensively. In that match he collected 22 points shooting 64.2 percent from the field (9 of 14) and 57 percent (4 of 7) from the perimeter. In the two prior games his stat line was more robust, but his shot and legs were still showing signs of rust. Presumably Robert Covington and Ben Simmons will be tasked with guarding him tonight, and while both are above average defenders I’d bank on another strong showing from Leonard.
Bench mob needs a boost:
Before panicking about the early issues of the Raptors reserve unit it’s important to note all the factors contributing to their slow and uneven start to this season. Clearly personnel changed which altered the 2017-18 ‘bench mob. That unit which featured Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl was the talk of the NBA. Still, there are other factors at play other than the loss of Poeltl.
Most notably, Wright and VanVleet have yet to play a minute together with the former having only appeared twice. His negligible 5:14 appearance versus the Timberwolves confirmed he wasn’t fully recovered and the 13:09 last evening pointed to either rust or signs his injury is lingering.
As per Hoops Stats, last season the bench mob ranked as follows:
- Points – 5th: 41.2 points
- Rebounds – 7th: 17.5
- Assists – 4th: 9.3
- Steals – 1st: 3.8
- Blocks – 1st: 3.1
The crowning glory of last season’s reserve unit was they ranked first in both efficiency (50.4) and Deff +10.1 (differential vs. opponent) .
Early results in the same categories aren’t particularly alarming given the team who’ll most often garner minutes hasn’t played a single minute together this season. Through seven games the comparable numbers with the variance versus last season in brackets are:
- Points – 15th: 38.8 (-2.4)
- Rebounds – 13th: 18.5 (+1)
- Assists – 25th: 6.7 (-2.6 – remembering the absences of both Wright and VanVleet)
- Steals – 16th: 2.7 (-1.1)
- Blocks – 6th: 2.7 (-0.4)
Efficiency rank is 23rd (39.9) and Deff ranks 12th (+2.0). Again, I’ll point you to the fact Wright and VanVleet haven’t played together yet, Siakam has primarily started and Miles is stuck in the Go Daddy curse.
My point is this unit should experience improvement once the backcourt are both on the floor.
Nurse should consider one reserve unit tweak:
Still, I can’t help suggesting Pascal Siakam would be better served playing with the reserves to start games even if Nurse elects to utilize him in clutch time. Albeit, Siakam has earned the right to start, but he’s at best the fourth scoring option (and usually the fifth). Why not put his energy, playmaking and scoring ability on the reserve unit where he can be more of a factor? Flipping OG and Siakam makes logical sense precisely because he can affect so much production.
— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) October 29, 2018
Keys to victory:
Entice the perimeter shot:
Philadelphia rank 20th in perimeter efficiency shooting 33.6 percent and are prone to the invitation as they jack up the eighth most attempts (35.3 per game) in the league. The obvious caveat to this suggestion is to make sure whoever guards Redick remains glued to him and forces him off the line. Alternatively, inviting Simmons and Fultz to shoot should be a priority for those tasked with that defensive assignment. Embiid can be lured into this shot as well which is preferable to letting him work in the paint since he’s shooting 23.3 percent from deep.
Stop the transition, push the pace:
Prior to the game in Atlanta the 76ers had a minus -2.2 net differential, but a blowout versus the 30th ranked Hawks offense shifted their numbers dramatically. Key to controlling Philadelphia is not allowing them to get out in transition.
Pounce early and hard:
With an unusual five games on tap this week for Philly and two back to back sets it would behoove the Raptors to get out to an early double digit lead as Brett Brown will be more likely to throw the proverbial towel in if he considers one day of rest will be followed by three games in four nights. Conversely, the Raptors won’t play again until Friday when they begin a four game Western road trip in Phoenix.
Steal Philly’s Windex:
The 76ers rank third in rebounding and fifth in defensive rebound percentage. Every Raptor will need to crash the glass to stop Philly from getting out quickly in transition and control the pace which is another top asset of Philly where they rank 7th.
Aggressively attack Philly’s starting unit:
While the focus in Philly may be on Markelle Fultz’s offense, the Sixers’ starting lineup has struggled more defensively (allowing 132 points per 100 possessions) than it has offensively (scoring 100).
Not surprisingly Embiid leads his squad in scoring (26.4 ppg), but reserve man Redick (19.3) is second. The trio of Simmons, Covington and Saric are the others who also average double digit scoring production. Toronto counter with seven double digit producers, and again, once the Raptors have their full complement of reserve players healthy theoretically that number increases.
Toronto Raptors Rotation:
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright Lorenzo Brown
SG: Danny Green, C.J. Miles, Norman Powell, Jordan Loyd
SF: *Kawhi Leonard, Malachi Richardson
PF: Pascal Siakam, *OG Anunoby,
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe, Chris Boucher
- Fred VanVleet has missed three consecutive games with an injured big toe and is listed as questionable.
- OG Anunoby listed as questionable after missing the game in Milwaukee due to personal reasons.
- Kawhi Leonard should be back in the lineup after resting in the first game of the back to back set.
Injury updates as per rotoworld
NOTES: As per usual predicting Nick Nurse’s starting rotation outside of Lowry, Leonard and Green is a bit of a guessing game. Joel Embiid‘s size should mean Valanciunas starts, however I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ibaka starting based on his mobility. Similarly, starting Anunoby and adding Siakam to the reserve unit might kick start the benches offensive production.
Top rim protectors so far through the 2018-19 NBA season via Total Points Saved (TPS) among guards, forwards and centers.
NBA positional designations used. PS/36 = Points Saved per 36. pic.twitter.com/lDj2s59sVg
— Jacob Goldstein (@JacobEGoldstein) October 29, 2018
Philadelphia 76ers Rotation:
Notes: I plugged in Simmons under starting shooting guard although he will be the primary ball handler.
- Jerryd Bayless – left knee posterolateral corner sprain, out until November.
- Wilson Chandler – left hamstring strain, expected out until early November.
- Zhaire Smith – Jones fracture/left foot, no return timetable.
Date: Tuesday, October 30
Time: 7:30 PM EST
Venue: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
Radio: TSN Radio 1050
The line: The spread favors Toronto by -6 and the over/under is 227 points.
It’s no secret Kyle Lowry hates to lose, especially to his hometown team. Over his six year stint sporting a Raptors jersey Toronto has lost the season series to Philly once, which coincidentally was his first year in Toronto (1-3, Lowry missed one of the losses out with injury). Since then Toronto has lost twice in twenty opportunities. After a cold shooting performance in Milwaukee, I wouldn’t want to bet against the bulldog sparking his squad to victory this evening. Enjoy the game.