The Toronto Raptors are 36-14 through fifty games, matching the same record they had this time last year. They are currently on a franchise-record eleven-game win-streak and have some key decisions to make ahead of the trade deadline on Thursday, February 6th at 3:00 pm.
Here is a breakdown of the Raptors upcoming schedule:
- Wednesday, February 5th at 7:30 pm: Indiana Pacers (31-18) @ Toronto Raptors
- Friday, February 7th at 8:00 pm: Toronto Raptors @ Indiana Pacers (31-18)
- Saturday, February 8th at 7:30 pm: Brooklyn Nets (21-27) @ Toronto Raptors
- Combined winning percentage of 53.6
Let’s look ahead to the five most interesting storylines for the upcoming week:
1. Defensive identity
The Raptors have gotten back to their defensive roots of late. Thanks in part to a mostly healthy roster, the Raptors have been able to change up their defensive schemes to keep teams off-balance. They have run a healthy amount of zone in the past few games, are aggressively double-teaming the ball in the post — even when the opposing player is not elite — and, by taking away the paint, they are asking the opponent to beat them from beyond the arc.
The Raptors have a league-leading defensive rating of 103.6 over the past five games, and opponents are shooting just 41.4 percent over from the field that time.
A lot of that defensive intensity is coming from the Raptors having a mostly healthy roster loaded with defensive-minded players who are solid, can play the zone or double-team and quickly scramble to the open shooter. Plus, with more games played together comes added chemistry, and the group seems to be clicking on another level.
More than anyone, Serge Ibaka is taking it upon himself to make sure the Raptors are organized on that end. Ibaka is talking more than I’ve seen in the past and he is hitting everybody that comes near him on defense, letting his presence be felt with physical play. He should get a lot of credit for the season he is having, helping will the Raptors get the 2nd seed despite repeated injuries to Marc Gasol.
The Raptors have actually been hot on both ends over the past 11 games, which is why it’s no wonder they haven’t lost.
The team has an offensive rating of 118.1 over the last 11 games, assisting on 61.9 percent of their baskets and shooting a league-leading effective field-goal percentage (58.5) and true-shooting percentage (61.5).
Plus, the Raptors are shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from three. Fred VanVleet (48%), Marc Gasol (53%), Ibaka (44%), and Terence Davis (53%) are leading the way from beyond the arc.
Updated Number of 3PT Shooters at 35% or more:
*50 Att Min https://t.co/SpUNoMwpFS
— emma (@_emmajbrown) February 3, 2020
It’s not like the Raptors have been going up against elite defenses as of late, but this has been a good opportunity for the offense to find a rhythm. With Lowry and VanVleet finally healthy for a long stretch, the Raptors are able to always have an elite point guard on the floor, and the ball is starting to move a lot better when the two play together. Guard play is one of the most important aspects of any NBA game, and the Raptors have two point guards that set the tone, move the ball, get their teammates involved, and look for their own shots only after those things are accomplished.
They also don’t turn the ball over. In fact, VanVleet is averaging more steals (2.0) than turnovers (1.4) in his last 11 games.
3. Siakam finding his rhythm
We can debate the vernacular to use to describe Pascal Siakam all we want — whether he is a star, a superstar, or just a very good player — but before comparing him to superstars around the league, we should at least acknowledge that Siakam hasn’t been entirely consistent this season.
Siakam started the season hot, cooled down a bit before and after injuring his groin, and is finding his rhythm again, starting to heat up to start-of-the-season levels.
Siakam has been the Raptors best player over this 11-game win-streak, playing aggressive on both ends of the floor while working within the framework of the Raptors offense instead of regularly isolating himself. Siakam is averaging 25/8/3 on 49/36/74 shooting and is a team-high +14 over the Raptors last five games.
Part of it has to do with the ball finding Siakam in good spots where he doesn’t have to create for himself, and the other part is him being aggressive and getting to the line. Siakam is averaging 7.4 free-throw attempts over his last five games, up from his season average of 4.9. The referees seem to be respecting Siakam a little more of late, but he is also settling for fewer jump-shots and instead is taking it to the hoop against defenders who can’t stay in front of him.
It’s exactly the way Siakam should be playing, especially when he is at power-forward: not many power-forward’s in the league have the speed to stay in front of Siakam, and now that he has a three-point shot, defenders will chase him off the line, giving him a path to the basket.
Rookie Terence Davis has been a revelation for the Raptors this season. The undrafted guard was snubbed from the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend, but he is one of the most efficient contributors to a championship team, and that is worth a whole lot more.
Davis is the only Raptor to have played all 50 games this season. Davis ranks 9th in the league in ESPN Real Plus-Minus at +4.32 and ranks 5th among rookies in true-shooting percentage at 62.6 (among those who have played at least 30 games).
Davis is second on the Raptors in three-point percentage, behind only Matt Thomas at 41.7 percent on 3.3 attempts per game.
As you can see from Davis’ shot chart above, the 22-year-old rarely takes mid-range shots and instead shoots everything from either behind the arc or at the basket. He bought into the Raptors system from the get-go and has been a great fit with his ball-handling and three-point shooting. If Davis improves as a passer — he is already good at hitting rollers in stride but struggles to view the full court — and a defender, he could be an elite combo-guard sooner than later.
5. Final trade deadline thoughts
The NBA trade deadline is just days away on Thursday, February 6th at 3:00 pm.
The Raptors can feel confident ahead of the deadline, knowing that only one team in the entire league is in a different tier than them. That would be the Milwaukee Bucks who, at 42-7, are in a tier of their own.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and Indiana Pacers all have flawed rosters with arguably less depth than the Raptors. Like the Bucks, those teams would likely have the best player in a series against the Raptors in Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, and Kemba Walker, but the Raptors project to have the 2nd and 3rd best player in Siakam and Lowry, plus a talented roster with championship experience. The Raptors are hard to bet against.
With that being said, the league is as wide-open as it has been in years and the Raptors could be smart to make a win-now move. The front office should specifically be worried about the Raptors lack of rebounding compared to their competition and see if they can improve on that front without sacrificing key players.
I am going to write about this in more detail tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, but the Raptors rank 21st in the league in rebounding percentage at 49.3 percent, while the Heat (52.6), Bucks (52.6), and 76ers (51.6) rank first, second, and third in the league. The Raptors can’t afford to give up a lot of second-chance points to those talented teams in the playoffs.
I understand that the Raptors have the personnel to play big: They started a lineup of Lowry-Anunoby-Siakam-Ibaka-Gasol multiple times this year. But playing that big means sacrificing skill in the form of ball-handlers like VanVleet and Powell. Not everyone can play big minutes, and although it’s a luxury to play different lineups, the Raptors lineup is construction means that a lot of their most skilled players are also the smallest (Lowry, VanVleet, and Powell have been the Raptors best scorers outside of Siakam. All of them are 6-foot-3 or shorter).
It won’t be easy to add rebounding without sacrificing a key player, because the Raptors have no big salaries sitting on the bench waiting to be dealt. However, a move around the fringes OR a buyout (Tristan Thompson would be ideal if he does get bought out, but that remains unlikely) could be important for the Raptors.
Have a good week everyone!