3. By most metrics Lowry has played at a top-10 level early on. Rest assured that, barring injury, Lowry will make his fifth all-star appearance this season. As many as excellent players like Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Pistol Pete Maravich, Bob McAdoo, Gail Goodrich, Wes Unseld and, Lowry’s mentors, Chauncey Billups and Wayne Embry. Not bad at all. DeMar DeRozan has longer odds being in the West, but he should make his fifth appearance as well (how tough is the West? Kawhi has only made the team twice).
Having missed the last two games after jamming his foot on Friday in Phoenix, Raptors head coach was on OverDrive Tuesday to discuss Kawhi Leonard’s status heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Kings.
In Episode 411 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley is joined by Vivek Jacob to break down the Raptors’ 124-111 win over Utah on Monday night, the continued brilliance of Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka, and the ramifications of Norman Powell’s shoulder injury.
Ibaka has been moving towards becoming a center for a few years now, but just 13 percent of his minutes came at the five last season according to Basketball-Reference. So far this season, 100 percent of his minutes have been at center, and his increased comfort level is apparent.
Of the small-ball stereotypes, the one that has held the most truth is that this group is playing faster than last year’s team, but they haven’t gone as far as the rest of the league. Rather, they appear to be following the old John Wooden axiom of playing fast but not hurrying.
They can undoubtedly run when they want to – and are incredibly effective when they do – but are well equipped to slow teams down and beat them in the half-court. They can lock-down defensively and suffocate opposing offences with increased on-ball pressure. Offensively, the Raptors’ starters can survive in a slower game due to having five capable passers, more shooters and the safety blanket of Lowry and Leonard when plays break down.
The curse of the Raptors, though, is the fear of the seemingly inevitable other shoe to drop. The pain of the past four seasons remains with the franchise, but – at the risk of sounding line an annual broken record – this year could be different. It helps that LeBron’s shadow is no longer hanging over the conference, but Toronto is better equipped to deal with the best teams in the league than they ever have been before.
The long-term beauty of the smaller starting lineup is its utility against Vegas’ preseason favourites to make the NBA Finals. The Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics have built their success on versatile, switchable lineups. The Raptors now have a great five-man group to counter that, with top-end defenders to throw at Curry, Durant, Irving and Tatum, and no clear weak spot of their own.
Though the takeaways are limited from Toronto’s victory over Boston last month, the Raptors did show how well they have defenders to slow down all of Boston’s stars. We’ll have to wait until the end of the month to see Toronto play Golden State, but they have – in theory – as good a defence for Golden State’s MVPs as anyone.
The Raptors starting forward has this unique move down pat. At or near full speed, he advances on a back-pedalling defender and just as he gets to him plants and spins his back towards the defender, who is now at a loss to determine what will happen next. Normally, Siakam just completes the spin and if the defender has somehow managed to stay in front of him, uses his reach and length to maneuver the ball around the defender and softly off glass for another two points. It all happens in the fraction of a second and it’s not only fans or the common man that marvel at the move.
“I can’t do it,” Kyle Lowry says simply when asked about Siakam’s signature spin. “It’s his move. You practice a move, you know your move. If you’re comfortable with your move and you know your move, you’ll make it.
“I know P got the skills and he put the work in,” Lowry said cleverly working Siakam’s nickname — PSkills — into his reply. “You put the work in and the results look good.”
Yes, the results have looked very good.
Siakam is making that shot on a regular basis. Head coach Nick Nurse figures Siakam is good on the move eight out of 10 times he tries it.
Fred VanVleet has had a front-row seat for the refinement of this particular move over the past two summers, spending large chunks of the past two off-seasons on a court with a group that includes Siakam, Delon Wright and Norm Powell, among others. Like everyone else, he just shakes his head at the consistency Siakam enjoys with a move that is far more haphazard and unpredictable basically defying any semblance of consistency.
“Hell yeah, we are all fans of Pascal,” VanVleet said. “We love watching him play. It’s fun. Sometimes it just looks like he’s out there playing summer ball. Teams don’t guard him because they don’t respect his shooting, but that hurts them even more because he’s getting a full head of steam and those big guys can’t keep up with him.
“There’s not many guys that have that combination of size and speed and ball-handling and footwork,” VanVleet said. “It’s tough for a guy of his size to do it.”
Pascal Siakam (11.7%), PF, TOR
Sooo, this dude is just The Man. His ADP on ESPN was in the 130s, and he’s presently one of the top 60 players on ESPN basic. Not a bad return! He’s currently fourth in minutes on the Raptors (Serge Ibaka at the 5 is working out nicely), and, while this is a fantasy column, Siakam’s looking like the real deal in IRL NBA: he has the same plus-minus as Kawhi (11.3), and that’s tied for 8th best in the league right now, behind KD, Giannis, Kyle Lowry, Steph Curry, BroLo (he is REALLY opening things up for Giannis, my goodness that was a good signing by Milwaukee), Khris Middleton, Kawhi and Pascal.
Pascal is 24, he’s 6’9”, and I feel like everyone in the NBA in five years will be 24 and 6’9”. Like, how long has Aaron Gordon been in his early 20s (and, also 6’9”)? It feels like forever. Fantasy-wise, Siakam is one of only 8 players in fantasy that has a line of 11 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 APG, 1 SPG, and is shooting 50 FG% or better. That sounds like a weird line, no? Perhaps it signifies nothing? Except, this is fantasy, and here are the other players who are meeting or exceeding Dr. Pascal’s line: LeBron, Kawhi, Giannis, Nikola Vucevic (who’s having a tremendous season so far, he’s currently a top 15 player on ESPN basic), Nikola Jokic (I believe you’ve heard of the Joker), Willie Cauley-Stein (who’s having a breakout year), Ben Goddamn Simmons (whose nickname is The Chosen One), and Doctor of Physical Sciences/Basketball Pascal Siakam. That’s a great goddamn list to be on, in my humble opinion.
In the process of fighting around a Rudy Gobert screen in the second quarter, Powell got caught on the massive Frenchman’s shoulder, twisted, and then quickly darted off the court. He’d only been on the court for a couple of seconds when it occurred. (For what it’s worth, the Raptors would go on to win the game handily, 124-111.)
As of this morning, the update is still fairly grim: Powell suffered a subluxation of his shoulder, which is a fancy way of saying it’s partially dislocated. If we’ve learned anything from the perils of shoulder injuries lately (thanks to Delon Wright), it’s that they can take upwards of a month to heal properly.
Obviously, we don’t yet know how long Powell will be out. But we do know it would take a lot to get Norm, the king of the grind, to express the kind of pain he’s showing in that aforementioned header picture. And it couldn’t come at a worse time: this was supposed to be Powell’s bounce-back season, and while his numbers so far haven’t been huge, he’s mostly done what he was supposed to do for Toronto.
Here’s hoping the severity of the dislocation isn’t too major and Powell is back in the court by the end of the year. The Raptors are a deep team, but injuries still take a toll.
“He knows what he’s doing. He’s not afraid with the ball. He’s going to put his body on people,” Nurse said.
Erratic playing time was something Monroe had to get used to last season, when he bounced from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Phoenix Suns to the Boston Celtics. It was in Milwaukee that Monroe found the most success, averaging 11.3 points and eight assists in 23.3 minutes a night over 20 games, but Boston coach Brad Stevens liked what he saw from the affably nicknamed Moose during nearly four months in the organization.
“It was great having him around,” Stevens said last month, when the Celtics were in town to face the Raptors. “All we wanted was for him to have a great experience and be prepared to help us win. I thought he did a great job when he got the opportunity.”
Monroe has made it known from the beginning that unselfish play is as integral to his game as playing out of the post or the elbow. He knew what to expect coming into the season as a backup centre and hoped to log minutes with the second group.
“It’s just no ego,” Monroe said of Toronto’s second unit after training with them this past summer. “That’s all you ask for when you’re playing with anybody. It’s unselfish and that’s how I’ve always played, and just making the right play. I think everybody on this team — and in that group for sure — understands that, that making the right play is the most important thing, and who scores it, who passes it, doesn’t matter as long as it’s the right play.”
In return for sacrificing minutes, Monroe knew he would be coming off the bench for a perennial playoff team, home to all-star calibre players and backed by one of the toughest home crowds around. A team he believes has a shot at a championship.
2) Pascal Siakam $1.5M (Previously Ranked 12th)
Pascal Siakam brings the energy of a guard in a power forward’s body. He was a massive part of the bench mob last season, but this season he’s been given the opportunity to reclaim the starting spot he held as a rookie. What does Siakam do? He can attack the rim, create for others, rebound, and defend. The better question is what does Pascal Siakam not do? He doesn’t currently shoot well from distance, but even despite that weakness, he manages to be an extremely effective starter.
It was especially good to see my guy Danny Green again. While it was odd to see him in the black and red Raptor colors, he had a classic DG night: Great defense, nicest guy on the court (shaking hands with each official before tip-off), 8 shots taken, all of them three-pointers, 5 of them Tar-Heel Triples. By the way, he is shooting almost 46% from three for the season. And the Raptors won – as Danny Green teams generally do.
The Kings are off to a pretty decent start to the year despite a lot of time on the road already. The Raptors get them just back from a four-game East Coast swing that saw them pick up wins in Miami, Orlando, and Atlanta before getting shellacked in Milwaukee in the final game of the trip. The scoring is shared nicely on the Kings who had a different top scorer in each of those four games out East. Buddy Hield leads the club in scoring with 19.7 points per game followed closely by De’Arron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein and Nemanja Bjelica. The Kings are 2-1 at home and 4-3 on the road. The only team to beat them at home thus far are the Utah Jazz in the season opener. As a team, the Kings are shooting a second-best in the NBA 39.9% from behind the arc which will clearly be Toronto’s defensive focus tonight.
Fox, nicknamed The General by Kentucky head coach John Calipari because his teammates “all wanted to go to war with him leading,” sounds a lot like Lowry. The second-year Kings guard has scored 20 points or more in five of 10 games with two double-doubles and a triple-double, after managing just three double-doubles in his rookie season. Lowry continues to lead the league in assists with 11.5 per game and has recorded double-doubles in eight of his last nine starts.