OG OG, there’s so much love for our boy OG | Boucher getting reps and press; Jah help us
Three — Encouraging showing: OG Anunoby was the lone bright spot in an otherwise lopsided contest. With none of the main playmakers in action, Anunoby was pressed into creating his own offense and the results were eye-opening. Anunoby flashed an expanded skillset that featured twisty drives and clever work in the post, and he repeatedly created space using his powerful spin move. Anunoby also made smart decisions when he encountered double teams, including a nifty no-look dish. Under ordinary circumstances, Anunoby won’t be asked to be more than the fourth option, but this game is a nice reminder of why there is so much optimism about his future.
OG OK – With most of the team sidelined, OG Anunoby had the spotlight. He was… fine? He used his strength to get in the lane on multiple occasions, something I always like to see. But he did make that old mistake — let’s call it “the MoPete” — of leaving his feet too soon and getting stuck in the air as the defense successfully rotated over to him more than once.
OG’s teammates did a good job of moving without the ball and presenting themselves to him, and he did end up with four assists. But that won’t always be the case; let’s hope OG cleans up that bad habit.
1. OG ANUNOBY (Raptors): I like the calmness and purpose that he’s playing with (four assists against the Bulls). He knows the offence and makes the reads you need to make. Anunoby is such an important piece for Toronto this year as they search for consistency and productivity at the wing spots. He’s come in ready and I see a guy who is dialled in.
For Boucher, the shift is partly because of his body’s composition and partly because of the Raptors’ roster composition. In Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors have two players who should be in the high 20s in minutes per game and are most effective as centres. Both will inevitably miss some time both to get them some rest and due to injury, opening up minutes up front, but that is not where the bulk of the opportunity is on this roster.
It is true that Boucher has not received ample time at centre to rule him unplayable there in the NBA. He should be given a trial there at some point, but in a season in which the Raptors will have far less margin for error in order to make the playoffs, which is still a worthwhile goal, they cannot operate too often in experimental mode. Memories of Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis dominating Boucher in a home game in December linger. Eventually, Nurse used Pascal Siakam at centre, a key move in a dramatic Raptors comeback. Boucher might not have gotten a true extended look in the NBA yet, but he will turn 27 in January. Chances are if he were going to add significant muscle mass and strength, it would have happened by now. It is the obvious “fix” to his biggest impediment to success, and everyone is smart enough to identify it.
Siakam, then, is an interesting name to bring up. Not that Boucher is in line for NBA hardware this year, but some combination of Siakam’s first and second seasons in the league represent a blueprint for how Boucher might be able to contribute at the NBA level.
“I know what (Nurse) wants me to do is protect the rim and run the floor and all of that,” Boucher said. “I’ve focused on those things before. If that’s what he wants me to do, I’ll work on those things and fix it.”
You’ll remember that in Siakam’s rookie season, he was forced into starting due to Jared Sullinger’s foot injury and the franchise’s bizarre insistence that Patrick Patterson was not cut out to start games, backed up by the most anecdotal of evidence. By the end of his stint in the role, it was clear Siakam was in over his head. He was able to stay afloat for so long, though, based solely on effort and desire.
If it’s not unique, Siakam’s motor is close to it; you cannot just expect Boucher to become as tireless as Siakam because the opportunity is there for him to do it. At least the Raptors could depend on Siakam beating his man down the floor and knew he had the versatility to switch multiple positions if necessary.
Theoretically, there is nothing to stop Boucher from being able to do that at the minimum. Like the younger version of Siakam, Boucher is long, wiry and fast. His offensive game is not pretty, but it is no less developed than Siakam’s then, with more range on his jumper. That skill set is a decent starting point.
Finishing with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting, including 1-for-2 from deep in addition to two steals and four blocks, Boucher was all over the floor, making plays on both sides of the ball in both spectacular and subtle ways.
Take, for example, the very first play of the game when Boucher came up with a steal by stretching his seven-foot-four wingspan sky high and forcing a turnover on the Bulls’ Zach LaVine. The play started a fast break for the Raptors that resulted in an easy Malcolm Miller triple.
Or how about, again in the first quarter, when Boucher took a kickout pass from Anunoby and calmly drilled a three, with no hesitation whatsoever on the attempt — a major point of emphasis for Nurse’s offence that’s more interested in seeing guys let it fly in rhythm when the shot’s there than the actual result of the shot.
And lastly, each of Boucher’s four blocks, where he showed what kind of defensive game-changer he could potentially be with his unique combination of length, athleticism and timing to get up and contest without fouling.
The Raptors won the title primarily on the strength of their defence – and Kawhi Leonard, of course – last season, but the one element the team lacked was a true shot-blocking presence. With Boucher in the fold, that weakness could be shored up.
There were more examples to be seen from this game, to be sure, but Boucher was so overall impressive there were too many instances to realistically point out.
Of course, this isn’t to say everything Boucher did on the floor had the Midas touch to it. There are still areas where the 26-year-old can improve, most notably crashing the glass and hanging with big NBA centres down low.
“My big concerns with him is can he rebound? Can he rebound with the size and strength of NBA guys, and I thought he let a few get away from him tonight,” said Nurse of Boucher’s performance Sunday. “And I would say, can he finish right? Again, he kind of reaches around, those long arms and at the G League level, there’s nobody up there to contest him. At this level, there’s a lot more size, he’s going to have to continue to work around it be able to move those things around when he gets the opportunity.”
Coming off an impressive year that was capped with an NBA title and Most Improved Player award, Pascal Siakam is expected to take his game to another level this season. The fan favourite joined Kate Beirness to reflect on the Raptors’ triumph, the added pressure that he will be tagged with this year and reiterate his desire to get a new contract signed with Toronto.
Kyle Lowry, Point Guard
A champion forever. Got the gorilla off his back and now he’s walking taller and smiling wider. His posture’s improved. He’s sleeping better. Those are just a few of the things a ring can do for you.
Decided he’d turn in his opus the last game of the season. In Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, in Oakland, the last Warriors game ever to be played at Oracle, this is the line he put up: 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, Jurassic Park making the earth quake on every make. He had 15 in the first quarter alone and made sure to spread the wealth around in the process, give multiple defenders a taste. Dusted Looney a couple of times. Hit Curry with a stepback. Popped a 3 off the dribble with Draymond in his face. All game long he made huge plays. The biggest was probably the bucket he hit on Curry with 2:13 left in the fourth. That put them up six. The shot clock was winding down, and Lowry took Curry off the bounce. He got into the lane, stopped, and faded away. Curry had a nice contest. Didn’t matter. The ball bounced high off the back iron, touched the tip top of the backboard, and fell through the net. Then Mike Breen went to hollering.
Why should people be excited about OG Anunoby?
OG Anunoby is exciting because players with his skill-set and physical profile are almost always big contributors. Anunoby is an excellent defender in almost all scenarios, although he can fall asleep off the ball on occasion. He has the strength and length to properly defend any position on the floor, which sounds like the ravings of fandom lunacy, but is actually true; he’s as good a post defender as the Raptors have outside of their true centers. Anunoby is also somewhere between a good (37.1 percent from deep in his rookie season) and passable (33.1 percent last season) shooter.
Last season was a step back for Anunoby, as his numbers declined in almost every regard. His role diminished, and Anunoby also fought through a variety of injuries and personal matters to still play in 67 games. Anunoby remains impossibly athletic, intriguingly skilled, and irrefutably young. Everything about him screams excitement.
The truth is, as long as the Raptors get some work in for their top seven guys or so, get them in the flow of things and work off each other as they did in the playoffs last season, that’s all they need. It might be slow at times — Lowry hasn’t picked up a ball in serious work since thumb surgery in July — but it’s kind of second nature to the main group.
“I think we got some pretty extended minutes out of our guys in Japan, and I thought they played really well (minus Lowry),” Nurse said. “I thought there was some really good chemistry there and the ball was moving and the shots were coming and there wasn’t much bog-down, and there was times when they decided to play some defence and they really did a decent job.
“So I’m not overly concerned. I think you guys can see there’s probably eight guys for sure, and we’re just looking for a couple more that are going to fill into some roles.”
There’s a clear delineation right now between the top tier Raptors and the back of the rotation two or three. Lowry, Norm Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Gasol are basically locked in as starters and Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka are the key bench guys. Perhaps Patrick McCaw becomes No. 8 — he twisted a knee Sunday and was getting further examination on Monday — but no one knows for sure who’ll play a lot after that group.
“That could be a lot of guys at this point,” Nurse said. “Is there much difference between this guy, this guy, this guy, this guy, and this guy? I don’t know.”
The criteria to win those minutes, or lose them, are simple.
“For me, it starts with who’s going to execute the defensive game plan and who’s going to be a safe pair of hands on offence, and then who’s going to not be afraid to take the kick-out shot, because while they’re in there they’ll probably get a few.”
Toronto lifts a banner to the rafters on opening night … and that will be this season’s top highlight. While the Raptors can challenge for a top-four seed in the diluted East if they keep their team together all season, it’s not clear why they would. Faced with a .500-ish squad but owning multiple veteran expiring contracts with significant trade value, the Raptors’ best move is to shift gears at midseason and build something more significant around Pascal Siakam and a clean cap sheet.
Let’s start with the positives. Leonard’s departure was a gut-punch, but he didn’t win the title by himself. The Raptors still have three quality starters with Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Siakam, while Serge Ibaka and Fred Van Vleet are two of the best bench players in the league. Siakam, in particular, seems ready to break out as an All-Star this season. Should they move one of the bigs, it may also open the door for value signing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, an athletic, aggressive, undersized 4 with a broken shot.
However, the Raps are hurting on the wings. Minus Leonard and the criminally underrated Danny Green, Toronto enters with Norm Powell and O.G. Anunoby as projected starters. Powell recovered some of his mojo in the playoffs after a dreadful regular season, but anything beyond a bench scoring role is a major stretch for him at both ends. Anunoby’s athleticism intrigues as a combo forward and he’s just 22, but his shooting and overall skill level have a long way to go.
Behind them, Toronto will try to salvage 23-year-old reclamation projects Stanley Johnson and Patrick McCaw. Johnson has prototype small forward size at a ruggedly built 6-7, but he struggled to make shots of any distance in Detroit (29 percent career on 3s, 43 percent on 2s) and turns it over too much for a secondary player. Meanwhile, McCaw is closing in on the NBA record for “longest career milked out of one good Finals game.” He tantalizes with long arms and quick hands, but his shooting and finishing haven’t caught up and his narrow frame is blown off course by the slightest of breezes.
Deeper down, two low-risk gambles bear watching. Matt Thomas may be athletically overmatched in the NBA, but he can shoot. No, I mean, this guy can SHOOT. Last year in Spain, he shot 48 percent from 3 and 88 percent from the line; those numbers were 46 percent and 94 percent the prior year.
And of course the trophy was there front and centre sharing the spotlight with Maddon.
A number of the players have had their turn with the trophy as well (see attached chart). As long as you were part of the roster, you qualified for the honour of taking it home or to a spot of personal significance.
But it wasn’t just player’s and coaches who had their turn with the cup.
Team president Masai Ujiri had the Cup with him in Nigeria and Cameron for his Basketball Without Borders tour. Pascal Siakam was on that trip as well and while he hasn’t had the Cup to himself he counts that trip as his time with the Larry OB.
Veteran centre Marc Gasol hasn’t had any time at all to spend time with the Cup. He went directly from the parade back home to Spain where he immediately immersed himself along with Raptors’ assistant Sergio Scariolo who would head up Spain’s eventual gold-medal winning entry in the FIBA World Cup in preparations for the tournament. He’s barely had a moment to himself since.
The good news is the Raptors have the trophy for the remainder of the regular season so there’s still time for Gasol and even Siakam, if he chooses, to take the Cup home for a couple of days.
When Fred VanVleet had his turn the destination for the Cup was a no brainer. One of Rockford’s most famous exports, VanVleet took the trophy home with him in mid-July.
“I hold a camp every year back home so all the kids and basketball junkies got to see the trophy and take pictures, so that was a really cool moment, not only for me but for our community,” VanVleet said.
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