Coming off a breakout season in 2017-18, and with a new $18-million contract as his reward, VanVleet put all kinds of expectations on himself.
“That’s a little bit of the problem,” he said. “You want to take big leaps every year and, as great a year as I had last year, my role really hasn’t changed that much this year in terms of what I mean to this team.
“Naturally you want to do more and score more and play more and do all of those things, and I’ve had those opportunities with guys resting and injuries and stuff, being able to start. (I’ve) just got to be patient, be patient, continue to manage expectations and make the most of those opportunities when you’re out there.”
It’s not that VanVleet has been a stiff. He remains one of the team’s best man-on-man defenders and three-point shooters. He blends seamlessly with Kyle Lowry or Delon Wright or he can lead the offence on his own. He has started 20 of the Raptors’ 50 games and has averaged about 27 minute a night, up from 20 last season. It’s scary for fans to think where the team might be without him.
Still, he has battled a series of nagging, lingering injuries and is shooting about 36 per cent from three-point range after shooting 41 per cent last season. He hasn’t really had a 15- or 20-game stretch where he’s been consistently above average.
The Rested Team Prevails
The Raptors, who travelled to Indiana following a home win over the Kings Wednesday, fell to 8-2 on the season on the second night of a back-to-back. In the two losses, Toronto has shot 40.3 percent from the field, 28.3 percent from deep and averaged just 103.5 points per game – 10.3 points fewer than their season average of 113.8.
Indiana, on the other hand, saw its first action since defeating Charlotte on Monday. With the win, the Pacers are now 11-0 on the season with two or more days rest.
It was clear that the Pacers were the more rested team, while the Raptors were down a number of players to injury in addition to coming off of a hard-fought win. Neither team shot particularly well from the field, but Indiana’s 43.5 percent shooting bested Toronto’s 41.3 percent shooting.
Overall, the Pacers appeared to have slightly more energy as they outscored the Raptors in transition (15-10) and in the paint (50-40).
Casey’s system relies much more on 3-point shooting than that of Van Gundy, seeing as the Pistons ranked just 16th in 3-point attempts last season, whereas Casey’s Toronto Raptors ranked third. This season, Casey tried to remedy that lack of efficiency by having the team bomb away from deep far more often, as they rank seventh in attempts this season. Despite this high volume, their accuracy isn’t nearly good enough to validate that number of attempts.
They rank dead last in the NBA right now with a 33.2 percent mark from 3-point range. The league average is resting at 35.5 percent. Among rotation players, the Pistons have just three players clearing that mark. The Pistons are toiling in the middle of the Eastern Conference. If it weren’t for the heroics of Blake Griffin, they wouldn’t even be sniffing a playoff spot because their roster isn’t outfitted to do so.
Casey’s system isn’t going anywhere, and he isn’t either. The key to the team’s success in the future with Casey is to outfit this roster to fit his requirements. They need to get better at the guard spots, and they need to add shooters outside of the ones they have. One tool the team has for improving the roster is to get aggressive at the deadline to trade away negative pieces that don’t fit to add players that do.
2. NICK NURSE(Raptors): Considering the fact that the Raptors have had 14 different starting lineups and Nurse has literally had to mix and match game plans and substitution patterns on a nightly basis, he’s done a terrific job getting this team in the position that they’re currently in. I like his style. Nurse focuses on who is available rather than whining and making excuses for who isn’t. He’s very adaptable and talented.
When Kyle Lowry broke Christie’s mark earlier this season against Milwaukee, Christie reach out.
“I love Kyle Lowry,’’ said Christie. “I love this kid because he’s come a long. It wasn’t given to him. He worked for it and I appreciate that.
“I obviously love Kawhi Leonard (who didn’t play Tuesday) because I love two-way players (which was Christie’s calling card). I’m so impressed with Pascal Siakam. I liked him last year, but he’s taken his game to another level this year.
“One of my favourites is Fred VanVleet. I followed him on Twitter last year. And then I saw him. I said to myself: ‘This kid can play.’”
Oladipo was carried off the court on a stretcher during the second quarter of the Pacers’ 110-106 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night with a serious right knee injury. He is scheduled for an MRI on Thursday.
“It is a serious injury and we’ll know more after the MRI,” coach Nate McMillan said. “We’re not going to speculate. It’s a tough situation. That kid has a beautiful spirit about him. He has always been one to try and to lift us up. We’ve got to lift him now.”
Oladipo was injured as he scrambled to defend an outlet pass to Toronto’s Pascal Siakam and crumpled to the floor awkwardly .
The severity was evident almost immediately as trainers draped a towel over the leg and players from both teams surrounded Oladipo while he was down.
Trailing since the midway point of the first quarter, the Raptors could never quite get over the hump even though they cut what was generally a double-digit Pacers second-half lead to a single point twice in the fourth quarter, most significantly on a triple off a broken play by Danny Green that made the score 105-104 with 1:11 to play.
But even without Oladipo, Indiana held steady. Thaddeus Young sealed it with a crafty turnaround on the next possession and the Pacers survived, playing to their defence-first identity and getting double-digit scoring from six different contributors, led by Young’s 23.
“They’re really good, they kind of pressured us at the beginning of the game, we didn’t come out with the energy that we needed to have,” said Raptors forward Pascal Siakam who need 16 shots to put up 16 points and was one of six Raptors in double figures, led by Serge Ibaka’s 23. “We had a better second half, but, starting the game, we didn’t come out with the energy that we needed to have. But then, they pressured us, they jumped on us and we really give them credit for that.”
Preliminary exam has left Pacers with fear that Victor Oladipo has suffered a season-ending knee injury that will require surgery, league sources tell ESPN. He will undergo an MRI on Thursday.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 24, 2019
The Raptors will soon hit their 25th season in the association.
“As soon as I walked in here I began to reminisce,’’ said Christie, who, believe it or not, is a grandfather, even though he could probably play 20 minutes in today’s NBA. “You think of Glendon College (where the Raptors used to practise). You think of Damon Stoudamire. He’s beside me. He’s at Pacific in Stockton, Calif., and I went down to talk to his team.
“I stay in touch with Damon and it’s just awesome.”
Awesome is word that aptly describes Christie, an old-school pro who has seen and experienced his share of adversity and adulation.
Christie has persevered and genuinely enjoys the times when he can return to Toronto.
Everywhere he travels in the NBA, Christie always has a good word to say about Toronto.
— FOX Sports Indiana (@FSIndiana) January 24, 2019
The Toronto Raptors are in a neck-and-neck race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, a race that could factor into the MVP conversation around Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors, however, seem to be content trying to win games without their star. Leonard is expected to miss his fourth straight game for “load management” on Wednesday, which has prompted some discussion.
The Raptors, of course, gave up DeMar DeRozan in order to get Leonard in a trade that simultaneously gutted and thrilled the Raptors fanbase. With Leonard hitting free agency if he opts out of his contract at the end of this season, the Raptors are hoping to keep him — but they’ll be facing stiff competition for the two-time All-Star in the offseason.
On Wednesday’s “Off the Bench,” Danny Kanell and Raja Bell talk about Leonard’s significant time off and what it could mean for the Raptors and Leonard. While Kanell doesn’t like the move, labeling it “soft,” Bell said that it’s part of a bigger picture. To Bell, the Raptors are letting Leonard know they’ll accommodate him which, after the fiasco before his exit in San Antonio, makes a lot of sense. If the Raptors can sign Leonard to a long-term deal after this season, that’s a huge win — especially with how he’s playing.
“If we get all these other guys back then some of those guys minutes are going to be, you know, JV, OG, Kawhi are probably gonna get some minutes,” said Nurse after Tuesday’s game. “So it’ll be interesting to see how it filters out.”
“This is a chance for these guys, man. I’m gonna play the guys that are rolling or ready to play. So this is a chance for all these guys to to kind of stake their claim on the position while there’s minutes to be had.”
Stake a claim those guys have. And now, Nurse will have to cut anywhere between one and three guys either partially or fully out of the rotation, lest he balloon his rotation out to 11.
Greg Monroe is the one easy call. JV will take his minutes, and offer reprieve from Monroe’s ground-bound stylings that have become less and less endearing as his vertical leap has crept closer to zero inches.
It’s on the wings where Nurse’s brainpower will have to be devoted. Those puzzle pieces are less easily aligned.
Miles is the easy guy to cut out based on his full season body of work. His three best games of the year have come in the last week against some most ass teams the West has to offer. On merit, Powell or Delon Wright probably deserve higher spots in the roster power ranking.
Rare is the opportunity to put Leonard in the “Not” category, but what choice do we have? Kawhi’s only game this week was that rough loss to Boston in which, despite his 33 points, the Raptors crumpled down the stretch. Since then it’s been a run of “load management” games, which, sure, fine, rest him, I get it, there are a lot of commas here — but also, should we be worried?
“Our hearts are hurting right now for Vic, but we’ve got to keep going for him,” said Darren Collison, who had 17 points and eight assists.
Thaddeus Young had 23 for the Pacers, including 12 in the final quarter. Serge Ibaka led Toronto with 23, Kyle Lowry added 20.
But for at least one night the Pacers could enjoy a bittersweet win against a rival.
Looking tired a night after beating Sacramento, the Raptors started slowly, hitting only four three-pointers in the opening half.
They matched that total in the third quarter and trailed by nine, despite shooting just 38% from the field against a Pacers team that had the NBA’s blocked-shots leader Myles Turner, something that wasn’t the case in the previous meeting, an easy Toronto win.
Head coach Nick Nurse had said the presence of Turner changes things significantly since he makes the Indiana defence go and that was apparent all evening long.
“They’re a tough team. They’re not at the top of the East for no reason,” said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet. “They base it off of defence, especially at home. They’re really physical and aggressive … We’ve got to be better, we know that, but I thought we fought pretty hard and worked ourselves into position for a chance to win at the end.”
Not bad. Not bad at all. pic.twitter.com/kQEF3uoGNF
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) January 24, 2019
Now, when it comes to the playoffs, then yes, it’ll be important for him to be putting up his usual 16-24-point nights from seasons prior. Just like every year, the game slows down, scoring will be tougher, and teams will be better prepared to face the Raptors for at least four games in a row. Hopefully, Lowry can pick up his scoring efforts when it counts the most.
Justin Robertson: At this point, I think it’s a luxury. The Raptors have won key games without him scoring 35 points or going on a tear. The team now plays a different game that makes Lowry part of the process rather than the focal point of it. Would you rather have Lowry score 40 points a game and lose, or a line of 10 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists, and win? He’ll find his touch as the season progresses and I think will be a key weapon come playoffs. Other teams won’t see it coming.
Satbir Singh: For the short term? Not that important. For the long term? They’ll need his scoring come playoff time because the best players on the best teams step up in late April into mid-June. However, what is important for both the short-term and long-term is to make sure Lowry is healthy. Sitting at home it’s tough to tell, but I don’t think Lowry’s back is anywhere close to 100 percent. The 32-year-old point guard is a bulldog and has no desire to sit/rest. It’s on the Raptors coaching staff and management to make sure Lowry is getting the proper rest, at least for the second half of the season.