The NBA announced Tuesday that Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby has been selected to participate in the 2019 MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars during the NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte. Anunoby becomes the 12th player in franchise history to participate in the showcase event and the first since Jonas Valanciunas in 2014. Anunoby will represent the United Kingdom on the World Team. The game will be played Friday, Feb. 15 at Spectrum Center with tip-off scheduled for 9 p.m. and will be broadcast on TSN in Canada.
Anunoby, a native of London, England is in his second season with the Raptors and is averaging 7.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 20.4 minutes in 41 games this season. He matched his career-high with 21 points and eight rebounds Dec. 21 vs. Cleveland and has led the bench in scoring nine times. Anunoby was selected 23rdoverall by the Raptors in the 2017 NBA Draft and started 62 games as a rookie.
NBA assistant coaches selected the Rising Stars rosters, with each of the league’s 30 teams submitting one ballot per coaching staff. A ballot consisted of four frontcourt players, four guards and two additional players at either position group for each team. Voters also had to choose a minimum of three first-year NBA players and three second-year NBA players for each team. Coaches were not permitted to vote for any player on their team.
MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars will showcase a U.S. vs. World format for the fifth straight year. In last year’s event, the World Team defeated the U.S. Team 155-124.
He watched a ton of video of himself and his Toronto Raptors teammates, he broke down his game with assistant coaches whenever he could, and he did more than pay lip service to the time-worn cliché about using down time for personal growth.
To his credit, it worked. All the hours of starting at computer screens or television monitors, all the chats with coaches, all the self-confidence that he’d eventually be healthy and able to contribute in a rather large way to his team’s success.
“Watching games, watching my film, (seeing) where I could get better, where I could insert myself and just trusting myself, trusting the work I put in,” Powell said Tuesday at the team’s practice facility. “You know, I worked really hard on my game, trying to improve, trying to help the team any way I can.”
Since coming back from the shoulder injury, Powell has had a solid impact on the Raptors bench and his production has been close to the desired and needed consistency.
In his last 15 games, he’s shooting 41.9 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from three-point range. He is, to use the vernacular of the game “not doing too much” when he’s on the court, not making wild drives to the basket, not forcing himself on the game as he did for most of last season.
He is still prone to ups and downs — there have been 0-for-5 and 1-for-7 shooting nights intermingled with 10-for-12 and 6-for-7 games — but, on the whole, he has given the Raptors what they needed. He has supplanted the struggling C.J. Miles in the rotation on basically a full-time basis. He seems to be someone coach Nick Nurse can count on over the final 30 games of the regular season.
Since Anunoby’s return from his absence this group has got that (although without Valanciunas) and Powell, for one, likes what he is seeing.
“We’re finding our groove a little bit,” Powell said. “It’s always something, whatever it is, personal reasons or injury, a guy misses a certain amount of games and we’re trying to get a feel for putting them back in, guys getting comfortable with the rotations being put back in. Now that everybody is really back besides JV we’re really getting a feel for the rotation, feel for one another and hopefully we can continue to grow our chemistry.”
It’s clear with everyone healthy Nurse has extra bodies and there are going to be nights when some of that second unit just doesn’t see the floor. It happened Friday in Houston when Delon Wright didn’t see the floor. It happened again Sunday in Dallas when Miles and McCaw had the DNP-coach’s decision beside their names.
“We talk(ed) about it and I think it was more of a matchup thing,” Powell said of Wright’s zero minutes played on Friday. “Wanted to keep some guys on James (Harden) to contain him and things like that. Sometimes you’re gonna play a lot and sometimes you’ll play a little. I think you know that, sometimes I’ve played 25 minutes sometimes I’ve played 12, just depends on the game flow and how it’s going. But guys are really selfless on this team and give themselves up for the team because we want to win. As long as we’re winning that’s what matters most.”
The Raptors have the most wins in the NBA, and have spent the entire season in first or second place in the Eastern Conference. Despite the success, there are still concerns, especially with the team cooling considerably after a torrid start.
The biggest issue has been three-point shooting, as the Raptors hoist the ninth-most triples per game league-wide, but only convert on 34.8 per cent of them. While there’s a belief existing roster pieces like C.J. Miles and Kyle Lowry can break out of personal slumps, adding another established shooter looks like a priority for Masai Ujiri and Co.
Toronto could also use a backup power forward to slide in behind Pascal Siakam on the depth chart. With Serge Ibaka moving to a full-time centre role this year, the Raptors are thin up front, especially with Jonas Valanciunas sidelined by a lingering thumb injury. Toronto ranks 24th in the league in defensive rebounding, so bringing in another big man would help shore up the glass.
Lowry has been battling a nagging back injury since the beginning of December and his production, particularly his shooting numbers, reflects that. Additionally, the two stars haven’t played more than five consecutive games together this season, their first as teammates. Building chemistry and learning how to co-exist on the floor continues to be a work in progress.
In terms of their individual performance, there’s very little concern about where Leonard is at right now. He’s scored 20 or more points in 22 straight games, one shy of matching the franchise record set by Vince Carter. He’s averaging 30.5 points over that stretch and is playing his best basketball of the season, and arguably of his career.
If you’re worried about one of them, it’s Lowry, who’s having a down season by his standards. The point guard is averaging 14.2 points per game, fewest since his first year with the Raptors, and is hitting just 32 per cent from beyond the arc, lowest since 2009-10 with Houston.
The injury is probably responsible for his shooting woes, at least to a degree, especially after getting off to a hot start (he averaged 18.5 points on 42 per cent from long distance in October). However, there seems to be more to it.
Lowry has looked like two different players this season. There’s the one who has carried the Raptors to several big wins with Leonard sitting out for rest – assertive and aggressive in running the offence and looking for his own opportunities to score. Then there’s the version that has deferred to Leonard when the superstar forward has been on the floor, often to the point of being too passive.
This past summer, Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri looked at the roster he had built, a great regular-season team that consistently fell short in the playoffs, and decided that group was maxed out. So he traded arguably the most beloved Raptor ever, DeMar DeRozan, for Kawhi Leonard, who had asked out of San Antonio but showed no desire to play in Toronto.
Leonard may leave the Raptors in July and force Ujiri to undertake a full rebuild. Even if he does, trading for him will have been worth it. Leonard, like Davis, is one of the NBA’s few transformational players, an MVP-caliber superstar who can singlehandedly take a team from good to great. He’s been as productive as advertised for the Raptors, who look like Finals contenders in the Eastern Conference at 37-15.
If Leonard re-signs, the Raptors will have a foundational player for the next half-decade who never would have considered them as a free-agent suitor. If he walks, Ujiri can go to sleep at night knowing he did everything possible to bring the Raptors closer to a title than they would have come if they’d run back the previous year’s team.
There are plenty of teams that should be taking the same approach now that bidding is open for Davis.
The Portland Trail Blazers, for example, are much like last year’s Raptors: a good-but-not-great team that will make the playoffs every year but is unlikely to make a real run as presently constructed. Putting together a trade package for Davis—let’s say CJ McCollum, Zach Collins and a couple of first-round picks, but everybody not named Damian Lillard is theoretically on the table—wou
Lowry on the Anthony Davis trade request: "Hey man, whatever makes him happy. This brotherhood is small and you've gotta do what makes you happy. That's all that really matters in our brotherhood. We want each other to be happy."
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) January 29, 2019
General manager Masai Ujiri showed he wasn’t afraid to gamble with Toronto’s acquisition of Leonard last summer. Don’t discount his propensity to roll the dice again with a Davis deal. Toronto would likely vault to the top of the East hierarchy with a Davis-Leonard pairing, and even though Golden State would still be a heavy favorite in the Finals, the first Eastern Conference crown in franchise history would be a monumental accomplishment. Plus, another guaranteed year of Davis could convince Leonard to bypass the sunny shores of Los Angeles.
What could a potential Davis deal look like? The Raptors boast a treasure trove of young talent, including Indiana product OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and fringe All-Star candidate Pascal Siakam. Serge Ibaka would make for an obvious salary match, with $23 million owed on an expiring deal in 2019-20. If New Orleans is enticed by Toronto’s crew of youngsters, a deal could be in the works.
Leonard parting this summer would likely lead to a Davis departure in 2020, but don’t expect him to stick around that long. Davis would warrant a sizable share of assets in return if he’s dealt during next year’s trade season, and Toronto would likely recover a similar package to the Anunoby, VanVleet, Siakam trio if necessary. The risk isn’t as high as one would assume.
The Bucks have entered the Anthony Davis sweepstakes and, according to sources,, have offered the Pelicans any players on their roster not named Giannis.
— Gery Woelfel (@GeryWoelfel) January 29, 2019
Coming into the season, many thought the three-ball would’ve been a big source of strength for this Raptors team.
How could it not, right? Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet both shot at least 40 per cent from outside last season, C.J. Miles came just as advertised, and OG Anunoby and Delon Wright ended up being pleasant surprises with their outside stroke. Combine this with the additions of known-marksman Danny Green and all-around superstar Kawhi Leonard, and on paper this was a team that should be killing opponents from beyond the arc.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse thought the same, encouraging his team to hoist them up at every opportunity and increase the number of attempts from last season’s 33 per game.
A sound plan in theory, but one that didn’t take into account the setback in three-point percentage the Raptors hit this season.
At the moment, Toronto ranks ninth in three-point attempts, taking 33.3 per game, but is only 18th in percentage, shooting 34.8 per cent from deep in the season.
This is because, while Green and Leonard came as advertised shooting-wise, all the other guys mentioned before regressed – badly.
It’s a situation that Nurse couldn’t have foreseen, and it has become the biggest issue affecting the Raptors, with beautiful ball movement setting up an open corner three, and eventually ending in an ugly brick, or those signature Lowry pull-ups that sometimes don’t even find the rim.
To win in the NBA, you have to score and play great defense. So far, the Raptors have done both. Offensively, the Raptors are ranked sixth overall, averaging 113.1 points per game. The Raptors shoot the ball well. They are eighth in field goal percentage (47.2%). Also, they take care of the basketball, ranking in the top ten in turnovers. The Raptors are a deep team. They have seven players who average at least 10 points per game.
Defensively, the Raptors are ranked ninth overall, allowing 108.5 points per game. The Raptors defend the perimeter well. Opponents only shoot 34.3 percent from three against the Raptors, which is good for fifth in the NBA. If the Raptors can keep these numbers the same, they can push their way to an NBA Finals appearance.
What Needs Improvement
The Raptors are one of the few complete teams in the NBA. However, they have a few holes in their armor. First, their rebounding needs to improve more. The Raptors are ranked 17th overall in both total and opponent rebounds. Their 0.2 rebound differential has to increase. Also, the Raptors are an average three-point shooting team, ranked 20th in percentage (34.5%).
Recently, the Raptors are having trouble late in games. Teams have been able to go toe-to-toe with them. A lot of their games have come down to the fourth quarter. In their last eight games, the Raptors have given up at least 25 points in the fourth quarter. Also, their execution on offense has been a bit erratic.
Leonard isn’t elite at passing out of attack situations, and his dribbling is more of the straight-line variety. Kawhi doesn’t slither past dudes, he bowls through them. If Leonard stays on his left, Harden can force him to the help, and Leonard’s cross-over doesn’t have a hope of shaking Harden.
That same weakness reared it’s head in the Raps double OT win over Washington earlier this month. The coverage of that game made it sound like Leonard had saved the Raptors. And, in a sense, he did. But, based on scheme, and the weaker parts of Leonard’s game, it was a lot harder than it needed to be.
In the last five minutes of the fourth and both OT, the Raptors had Kawhi shoot the ball thirteen times. The rest of the team shot ten times.
Kawhi turned the ball over just once, officially, although watching I saw two. But he also got only one assist — the crucial kick-out to Ibaka for the de facto winning three. He probably should have had more, the rest of the Raps were a brutal 1-10 in that stretch — only hitting that final shot, and at least one Leonard pass led to free-throws (off another Ibaka three).