And so it came to pass that the Toronto Raptors would become an entirely new team in the month of February. For the first time since the beginning of We The North, Masai Ujiri has remade the Raptors at the trade deadline. This is no longer an inherited team; this team is decidedly in Ujiri’s image.
Current Raptors who finished 2017-18 with Toronto:
Fred Van Vleet
Additions since then:
— Louis Zatzman (@LouisZatzman) February 12, 2019
(Ben McLemore hasn’t actually been signed, but the rest remains true.) But don’t write off the remaining Raptors just yet. Even though only a handful of players remain since the end of the 2017-18 season, they form the core of the rotation. In fact, the starting lineup hasn’t been altered by Toronto’s moves at the trade deadline, although countless Raptors Republic commentators hope and expect Marc Gasol to eventually displace Serge Ibaka as the starting center.
As a matter of fact, the Raptors’ starters of Lowry-Green-Leonard-Siakam-Ibaka have been quite mediocre for some time. Since December 1, despite playing the most minutes of any Toronto lineup, they sport a -3.3 net rating. That was true against both the Knicks and Nets, as the starters managed a somewhat better +1.6 net rating in 51 minutes of playing time. Meanwhile, Gasol has romped to a +6.8 net rating in only 20.5 minutes per game since joining Toronto. His passing, screening, and shooting has been a revelation. At the end of the third and start of the fourth against Brooklyn, Gasol’s passing and post play practically won the game for Toronto. He’s likely the second or third option Toronto needs to compete with the league’s best. The starters need a boost, and Gasol is ready and willing to provide it.
More than Gasol, Toronto has help on the way. Jeremy Lin may suit up tonight, but he won’t clear waivers until 5 PM ET, which leaves scarce time to sign paperwork and make everything official before the 7:30 PM ET start. If Lin does play, expect him to provide a wallop of playmaking and creation off the bench. He can push Fred VanVleet off ball (when Van Vleet returns from partially torn ligaments in his thumb), which should add enough creation ability that Gasol is no longer needed to boost the bench.
Toronto has also had help from some of its new imports. Patrick McCaw especially thrived against Brooklyn playing with the ball in his hands. What I’m about to say will probably earn me some death threats, and certainly spark up some anger, but I’m going to say it anyway. McCaw is arguably faster than Pascal Siakam. That guy is lightning fast with the ball in his hands. McCaw is what John Wall always wished he could be. McCaw is an aggressive defender who forces oodles of turnovers, and he moves the ball like a rocket when it hits his hands. He is playing his way into the rotation, even when Toronto is at full health. For now, with VanVleet sidelined, McCaw will be a replacement piece that I’m excited to watch grow.
This has been a lot about Toronto, but the next stretch against subpar competition will be much more about Toronto than their opponents. Washington will be the final game before the all-star break, and they’ve quietly (loudly?) been imploding since the news of John Wall’s injury. They’ve lost four of six, with their only wins coming over Chicago and Cleveland. Bradley Beal has been dominant as ever, but their brightest surprise right now has been the play of recently acquired Bobby Portis. Since his trade for Otto Porter Jr., Portis in three games has averaged 21.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 54-55-67 shooting splits. He’ll cool off eventually, but Toronto will be facing a hot Beal and Portis in this one. We all know that Beal can dismantle the Raptors single-handedly, so their success could determine the outcome of this game.
Tip-off: 7:30 pm
It is unlikely that Jeremy Lin will make his debut tonight, so I’m leaving him off of this list for now. Fred VanVleet (thumb) is the only name on the injury report, but we all know that can change quickly. Leonard is questionable with left knee soreness, but I’ll keep him in the chart for now. Check back in before gametime for a more certain depth chart.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, Jordan Loyd
SG: Danny Green, Malcolm Miller
SF: Norman Powell
PF: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher
C: Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol
OUT: Kawhi Leonard, Fred VanVleet
TBD: Jeremy Lin
John Wall and Dwight Howard are out. Tomas Satoransky (personal) is listed as questionable. It looks like Bobby Portis may soon play his way into the starting lineup, but for now he’ll be listed off the bench. Washington plays a lot of their bigs at center, including Green and Bortis, so expect Washington to play small for long stretches of the game.
PG: Tomas Satoransky, Chasson Randle
SG: Bradley Beal, Troy Brown, Jordan McRae, John Jenkins
SF: Trevor Ariza, Wesley Johnson, Sam Dekker
PF: Jeff Green, Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker
C: Thomas Bryant, Ian Mahinmi
Raptors are -11, which makes sense given the team’s standings, but doesn’t fit with how Toronto has been playing recently. They have been winning, but they haven’t been blowing the doors off of teams. Maybe this will set that note before the all-star break. Over-under is 233.