*Edit* Kawhi Leonard is Questionable tonight with a bruised hip.
Before we get started, I’m going to piggyback off of the wonderfully irreverent Eric Koreen, who summed up the next six days well enough:
“This is a 21-7 team with some problems, but at least they are going out on a brutal four-game Western Conference road trip that has them playing four of that conference’s top seven teams over the span of six days.” – Eric Koreen
The next four games feature the Los Angeles Clippers (4th in the West), a back-to-back in Oracle Arena against the defending champions (Warriors), a trip to the Rose City to face-off against Damian Lillard and the Blazers, and finally traveling up the mountain to play in Denver. Thank goodness there’s some outside stressors ready to apply said stress to the Raptors, who are, of course, stress free.
Coming off of a loss at home to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, the Raptors have dropped 3 of 4. The poster-boy of the Raptors current slide – which is only partially deserved – is Kyle Lowry. Lowry has maintained his position as the Raptors best pick n’ roll playmaker. He’s also played good defense over the past 5 games. The problem is his shooting has fallen off of a cliff.
In the Raptors 20 wins, Lowry:
16 PTS/10.1 AST/1.5 STL/48%-FG/40%-3P/+13.4
In the Raptors 7 Losses, Lowry:
7 PTS/9.9 AST/.9 STL/23%-FG/9.5%-3P/-4.1
— Samson Folk (@samfolkk) December 10, 2018
Over his last 5 games, Lowry is shooting 19-percent from the field and 15-percent from three-point land (5-points per-game). This stretch has 2 Raptors wins in it, but those are largely due to Kawhi Leonard’s sustained excellence, and Pascal Siakam’s continued ascension to fringe All-Star status.
One of the strange repercussions of Lowry’s terrible shooting performance is the spacing of the offense. How the Raptors go about creating space fundamentally changes in bad Lowry games. For starters, Lowry attracts very little weak-side help in these games. Other teams are more-or-less letting Lowry’s defensive matchup stick him by his lonesome. One of the consequences of this, is that Danny Green’s 3-point attempts drop off a cliff – 6.2 attempts per game to 3.9.
Outside of the ISO actions the Raptors have been running for Leonard, they’ve been asking Serge Ibaka to pop a lot farther out. When Lowry and Green’s attempts go down, Ibaka’s go way up. He’s shooting more than twice as much from downtown – 2 attempts per game to 5 attempts per game – which ranks him as the Raptors most prolific 3-point shooter in these games.
It’s no wonder the Raptors are shooting so much worse in losses, when the bulk of their 3-pointers are being transferred over to less-efficient shooters. This is why Lowry’s play seems so critical to the Raptors as opposed to Leonard’s. A lot of Leonard’s offensive production exists in a vacuum. He kills it every night, but he’s often generating looks for himself. The team will sit back and watch Leonard go to work, where as Lowry is a chef. Lowry’s role on offense is far larger than Leonard’s as strange as that sounds, and the Raptors will never operate at their peak until Lowry can find a modicum of success.
Per Blake Murphy – Lowry after the Bucks game:
(Still pretty Passive)
Lowry: I’ve gotta look at the film, see where it was at. I don’t know. I just couldn’t find the open ones tonight.
(25 of last 28 shots are threes, get to the rim?)
Yeah, I’ve gotta, I was thinking about that tonight, and I just didn’t get an opportunity, or just didn’t do it, rather. I’ve gotta be a little bit more inside the paint, inside the arc. I definitely do, that’s a good point.
(Tough to find a playmakers/scorer balance)
You’ve gotta figure it out. You’ve gotta do it. I’ve done it before. Just gotta find a way to do both in an efficient way.
Outside of the obvious calls for rest, it seems like Lowry has an eye on what’s happening. I haven’t seen any of the speculation about his back verified, so I’d assume he’ll be playing against the Clippers tonight. A matchup against the loveable Canadian kid, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, along with Patrick Beverly, and of course, Lou Williams.
Doc Rivers team remains one of the most likeable squads in the league. They’re a criminally deep team that plays to their strengths and executes at a high-level. They showcase third tier stars like Tobias Harris, Montrezl Harrell, and Danilo Gallinari. All three of them playing terrific basketball right now, and all of them capable of dominating stretches of the game in different ways. The Clippers are fresh off a late night overtime game, but their high-variance offense lends itself to better performances on back-to-backs.
Harrell concerns me the most as far as matchups go. Siakam and Leonard should be more than capable of lining up with Harris and Gallinari, but Harrell is a terror off the bench. He’s got an insatiable nose for the ball, and with the Raptors rebounding in flux at times, Harrell could be the guy eating glass.
With all that being said, I do think the Raptors matchup really well defensively against the Clippers. Fred VanVleet is more than capable bouncing around the screens that will be set for Williams, and the Leonard/Siakam duo should be able to switch any action that includes the Clippers top scorer (Harris). Noted Raptors-killer, Mike Scott is also on the Clippers, so let’s look forward to some headaches that involve him.
Leonard will almost assuredly “get his” and it’s been a long time since Siakam disappointed any of us. This game looks to sit in the hands of Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. If the Raptors big men can win their matchup, the Raptors incumbent stars should be able to win theirs. Yes, that even means Lowry. I think this game will be a bit of a come back for him, and hopefully a huge step forward. Hopefully we’ll see more of the ball in Delon Wright’s/Siakam’s hands, and lots of off-ball Lowry and VanVleet. If this happens, I’d expect an aesthetically pleasing game, and a win.
TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: TSN 1050 | Tipoff: 10:30 EST
There’s always a chance something comes out of the woodwork re: Lowry & Leonard, but they’re both slotted to play. Norman Powell (shoulder) is still sidelined, but should be back sometime this week. Malachi Richardson (toe) is day-to-day.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown
SG: Danny Green, Delon Wright
SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, CJ Miles
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe
Luc Mbah a Moute (knee) is out, but expected back in a couple weeks.
PG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic
SG: Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Sindarius Thornwell
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Tobias Harris, Mike Scott
C: Marcin Gortat, Montrezl Harrell, Boban Marjanovic
Let’s all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya My Lord” as the Raptors grab a win versus one of the league’s most fun teams to watch.
Have a blessed day.