Update: The Raptors are sitting Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol. Expect to see a lot of the deep bench guys competing for roster spots.
Before we start, make sure to get your tickets for the Opening Night Watch Party – Sportsnet Bar & Grill. $20 gets you in and a drink. Come say hi.
If the postseason is presentist, exclusively the domains of winning-is-all-that-matters, then the preseason is the opposite: futurist, with weight only on information, placing no importance on results. In that sense, the Raptors may be 1-1 in the preseason, but in a platonic ideal, they’re undefeated; the Raptors have learned a huge amount in their two Japan games played at ungodly hours against the Houston Rockets.
As far as Toronto’s returning players go, they’re generally known quantities. Serge Ibaka has dominated preseason, defending well, running in transition, and scoring as one of Toronto’s best and most consistent options, averaging 15.0 per game on 68.4 percent shooting. Chris Boucher is going to score a lot, too, whenever he sees the floor. Marc Gasol has changed the flavour of the game upon entering, improving the team structure on both sides of the ball. Norman Powell has shot absurdly well, now at 7-of-10 from deep through two games, but it will take time to see if the improvement will stick. Fred VanVleet remains a jolt of energy, and his improved passing displayed in the preseason — averaging 7.5 assists per game — answers some questions about his game from last regular season. Pascal Siakam will walk into massive numbers this season, as he’s averaged 20 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assist, 1.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks in 24.4 low-effort minutes.
Kyle Lowry hasn’t yet played, but he should fit right into the above group: a key player about whom he already know almost everything, at least when it comes to basketball. He could debut tonight against the Chicago Bulls.
There are a variety of other players about whom we seemed to have learned plenty. Terence Davis hasn’t shot well, but he’s stabilized the Raptors at both ends upon entering the game, and his ability to initiate the offense could bode well for his future as a point guard. Malcolm Miller seemed to have improved his game off the dribble, both as a finisher and a passer. He looks ready for NBA minutes, and I expect he has the inside track on a roster spot over Toronto’s dual camp guards, Isaiah Taylor and Cam Payne. Oshae Brissett looks like another brilliant find, especially as a defender. OG Anunoby’s defense remains terrific and the best option on the wing, and it should be enough to start him and douse him with minutes, but his creation hasn’t seemed to improve; he has more turnovers through two games than assists. Pat McCaw, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Stanley Johnson haven’t given much on the offensive end, either. To be fair, those three been played in lineups starved for creation, but none have been able to fill the void.
So what are we watching for tonight? Can Davis improve his shooting? Can Powell improve his passing off the dribble? Can Brissett give more than energy plays, like transition attacks or putbacks, on the offensive end? Can any of Anunoby, McCaw, Hollis-Jefferson, or Johnson offer creation and initiation chops for bench-heavy lineups? It’s important to note that none of the four need such skills to be playable, as they can always be attached to Lowry or Siakam for their offensive weaknesses to be minimized, but whether they have those skills or not is valuable info. Anything we think we’ve learned should be questioned; two games’ worth of minutes isn’t enough to know anything definite, although they can inform our questions going forward. We’ve seen plenty about which to be excited, and we still have two more preseason games to stoke that fire before the real party starts.
By the way, the Chicago Bulls may be 0-3 in preseason, but they look fun and exciting. Coby White has shown a lot on the offensive end, especially with his twisty handle and change of pace on the drive. Like Siakam for the Raptors, Zach LaVine has been too good for preseason. Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., and Thad Young have been solid. Toronto’s starters especially will have a real challenge. Chicago’s deep bench, however, has been lacking thus far, so Toronto’s fringe guys fighting for rotation spots could show something tonight.
Tipoff: 6:00 pm EST | TV: TSN | Radio: TSN 1050
Projected Raptors Lineup
Marc Gasol is out for rest, and Kyle Lowry (left thumb) is questionable.
PG: Fred VanVleet, Cameron Payne, Isaiah Taylor
SG: Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw, Terence Davis II, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller, Oshae Brissett,
PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Devin Robinson
C: Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher, Dewan Hernandez
Projected Bulls Lineup
PG: Kris Dunn, Tomas Satoranksy, Coby White, Perrion Callandret
SG: Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine, Adam Mokoka, Justin Simon
SF: Otto Porter, Chandler Hutchison, Milton Doyle
PF: Lauri Markkanen, Thad Young, Simisola Shittu
C: Luke Kornet, Daniel Gafford, Christiano Felicio