Gunning for 15 in a row – Davis and Thomas are unlikely heroes – Blakes lays everything out, again
How the deadline shifted VanVleet’s 2020 UFA market
So, about that VanVleet free agency. He’s ineligible for an extension, which means he’ll be unrestricted on July 1. That’s worrisome to an extent for the Raptors. There is always some risk in free agency, even if both sides think a deal can get done smoothly, as may be the case here.
VanVleet will be a coveted asset – entering his prime at 26, with a championship pedigree and a season showing he can start regularly – in a very thin free agent market. He might rank as the top free agent point guard, depending on how options shake out and teams value early-peak versus late-peak options. In a regular summer, he could expect a significant raise on merit.
The one saving grace for Toronto might be the limited number of teams with cap space. The 2020 market already projected as cap space-poor and multiple teams signalled at the deadline that they don’t care to be players with theirs, already “renting” their 2020-21 space to pick up assets. Memphis removed themselves as players entirely, as did Cleveland if Andre Drummond picks up his option. Atlanta cut roughly $25 million of their space.
Here are the teams currently expected to have space before options are factored in, courtesy of EarlyBirdRights: Atlanta ($49 million), New York ($39 million), Detroit ($35 million), Miami ($27 million), Charlotte ($23 million).
While that’s a limited market, New York and Detroit will both desperately need point guard help, to the extent that John Hollinger felt the deadline broke poorly for Toronto’s chances of retaining VanVleet. Atlanta may have more space than they can use and value talent over fit in the end. Miami is always aggressive.
The Raptors don’t hold the official right to match any offer, but unofficially, their Bird rights allow them to sign VanVleet up to his maximum salary. How high they’re willing to go could depend on this year’s playoff run, whether a certain someone signs their super-max in Milwaukee and whether the team is comfortable in their ability to get rid of salary at a later date if needed.
As has been said many times this season before, the silver lining to the injuries the Raptors have sustained has been the increased opportunity for a player like Davis who likely wasn’t going to get as much chance to show what he can do had the team been able to stay healthy. However, it’s not like extenuating circumstance is the only reason why Davis has been given more chances to prove himself — he’s both earned the opportunities given to him and has the advantage of seemingly having it in his DNA to rise to the occasion when required.
“I’ve always been the guy that plays and when there’s a big moment I’m not afraid of it,” said Davis. “Just by where I come from and the kind of situations I’ve been in, and the preparation. You just have to prepare yourself for those moments. So, it’s just how I think and how I go about it and the confidence is built.”
But while Davis is probably the most visible example, that confidence and fearlessness to step in and make an impact on a game he spoke of can be seen up and down the entire Raptors roster.
This was best exemplified by the five-man, all-bench lineup of Patrick McCaw, Matt Thomas, Oshae Brissett, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher that Raptors coach Nick Nurse rolled with late in the first quarter and much of the second quarter Saturday.
This was a lineup that had only played four fleeting minutes with each other once before in a game this season. But it came out and helped turn the tide for Toronto to build a sizeable lead heading into halftime.
“That group was awesome in the first half, right? They were incredible,” Nurse said. “They turned a lacklustre start to the game into an energetic game and they were great.”
Fellow rookie Terence Davis continues to turn heads. Thriving in a bench role, he was the choice to replace Kyle Lowry after the all-star suffered whiplash in the previous game.
“I just wanted the spacing, I think,” Nurse said of putting Davis in the first five.
“He’s been shooting the ball really well and I just wanted the spacing out there. Along with him, I kind of consider Pat (McCaw) our backup point guard and I kinda wanted him to be able to come in and sub for either him or Fred and go from there.”
Davis responded with five three-pointers and five offensive rebounds. He still makes some mistakes defensively, but his ability to provide offensive fireworks is impossible to ignore.
And one random thought I had after the NBA’s trade deadline: Remember when Masai Ujiri faced some criticism for taking so much time to “evaluate” what he had after taking over for Bryan Colangelo (though he did wisely dump Andrea Bargnani immediately, it was a while until the Rudy Gay blockbuster happened and longer still until the Terrence Ross-for-Serge Ibaka deal, which has paid huge dividends). New Wolves boss Gersson Rosas is not taking the same approach as Ujiri. In fact, he’s doing the opposite, throwing just about everything overboard that he can. Superstar Karl-Anthony Towns is still around, but do you know how many other Minnesota players from last year’s roster are still around for Monday’s visit to Toronto? One! Interesting youngster Josh Okogie. That is truly wild.
The numbers are crazy, and the variety speaks to the team’s depth and ability and willingness to contribute when needed, through injuries that have forced almost every significant rotation player to miss at least 10 games this season.
“I think we’re experienced enough in that realm, unfortunately,” VanVleet said after Saturday’s win. “We’ve had a ton of guys out this year, so we don’t really think about it. It’s just more opportunity for a guy like Terence to get some starting minutes, obviously myself to be primary ball-handler most of the game. So it’s more opportunity, and guys have got to step up and try to make the most out of the situation, and find a way to get a win and move on to the next one.”
It is the subtleties of the franchise-record streak that are wildly impressive, though — more than just the raw, in-your-face numbers.
They win with different lineups and in different manners. Any of the main cogs can take over a game at any time, but the depth is astonishing and important.
A never-before-seen group of backups in Thomas, Pat McCaw, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Oshae Brissett and Chris Boucher — more likely be on the court in the last few seconds of a blowout – changed the tone in Saturday’s win with seven outstanding minutes, bridging the end of the first quarter and start of the second.
Just another way to win another game.
The truth is, we may not have even seen the best version of this year’s Toronto Raptors yet. Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Gasol have all missed at least ten games. Norman Powell is sidelined indefinitely with a fractured finger. When everybody is healthy, Toronto can be almost as scary as they were last year.
They could’ve mortgaged off future picks, but those assets could become important down the line if Toronto decides to pursue Giannis Antetokounmpo in the summer of 2021. They also didn’t want to part ways with a young player with potential to acquire someone more established – losing OG Anunoby in a trade simply wasn’t an option.
At the end of the day, however, it boils down to how well the Raptors are playing. Siakam was supposed to take the next step in his development this season and he did, becoming an All-Star for the first time in his career. Lowry was supposed to finally show his age and he didn’t, remaining an All-Star for yet another season. VanVleet has emerged as a potential star in the making, a possible partner for Siakam for years to come. Undrafted guard Terence Davis has been a stolen gem, averaging 7.9 points per game off the bench.
Why mess with a good thing?
Winners of their last 13 games, the defending champions are the hottest team in the league right now. Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet have both been phenomenal for coach Nick Nurse. Injuries, however, have already kept them out of commission this year.
Adding Johnson will be good insurance just in case the injury bug decides to terrorize Toronto once more. His ability to drive into the lane and drain the long ball will indeed be of use to Toronto’s guard-oriented offense.
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
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