Five Storylines for the Week of August 3rd

Racial justice, OG's confidence, Ibaka's finishing, and more in the five most interesting storylines of the week.

Holy s***, basketball is back!

The last time I did this was the week of March 9th, and I feel like all of us have aged several years since then. And as weird as it is to write about basketball with all the things going on in the world these days, the Raptors are a special team in that they are a constant source of joy and entertainment. It’s been like that all season, but it was never more evident than their 107-92 win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night. 

Without further ado, here is a breakdown of the Raptors upcoming schedule:

  • Monday, August 3rd at 1:30 pm: Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat (42-24)
  • Wednesday, August 5th at 8:00 pm: Toronto Raptors vs. Orlando Magic (32-35)
  • Friday, August 7th at 9:00 pm: Toronto Raptors vs. Boston Celtics (44-22)
  • Sunday, August 9th at 2:00 pm: Toronto Raptors vs. Memphis Grizzlies (32-35)
  • Combined winning percentage of 56.39

Let’s look ahead to the five most interesting storylines for the upcoming week:

1. Racial justice

The Raptors have made it clear that they have two main goals in Orlando: one is to win a championship and the other is to use their platform to help educate the public about racial injustice and the history of systemic racism in North America.

A lot of NBA players feel like they have a responsibility to push some of that messaging. It’s important to remember that the media — the people who cover the league and its players — share some of that responsibility.

Aside from reporting on what has been said at press conferences, local and national broadcasts have tried to inject messaging about racial injustice into their game coverage. It’s an important aspect of educating the public and not allowing the game to act simply as a distraction, which is what professional sports usually are. 

Unfortunately, I have already noticed some of the messaging become repetitive throughout the broadcasts. That is not inherently a bad thing, because repetition is an effective technique we use to remember important things. But it’s also important to educate ourselves on some of the lesser-known examples of racial injustice, especially here in Canada where some people seem to think racism is not a problem. For that reason and more, I am going to use this Weekly Storylines column to share at least one of those examples each week.

Did you know… people of colour represent 83 percent of COVID-19 cases in Toronto despite amounting to just 52 percent of Toronto’s population, according to data on race and infections provided by the city. Conversely, white people make up 48 percent of Toronto’s population and only 17 percent of COVID-19 cases.

Black people, who make up only nine percent of Toronto’s population, account for 21 percent of COVID-19 cases in the city.

“[COVID-19] has had a greater impact on those in our community who face greater health inequities,” Toronto’s medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said.

“We need to focus on the social determinants of health,” said de Villa, including affordable housing, access to employment, income supports, and educational opportunities as determinants.

“And yes, we need to address systemic racism.”

2. Confident OG

Let’s move into the basketball-oriented storylines, such as OG Anunoby looking… amazing. 

A lot of people wrote about Anunoby ahead of the restart as one of the most important players in the bubble because of the pressure that he was going to be under defending some of the best players in the world. The Raptors ideally want Pascal Siakam to take less responsibility on the defensive end so that he can have the energy to run the offense, which means trusting Anunoby to defend people like LeBron James.

What we didn’t see coming is Anunoby’s offense taking a mini-leap halfway through the season, but here we are. 

Anunoby said he worked on his ball-handling during the pandemic, and it shows. Anunoby has never looked more confident and comfortable handling the ball, and he has been very decisive when the ball comes to him, whether that means attacking the rim, making the right pass, or pulling up for a three. 

The best version of the Raptors includes Anunoby in the closing group because of his defense, but that looked hard to justify at times this season with the way Norman Powell has been playing off the bench. If Anunoby can continue giving the Raptors this much offensively while being the defensive steward that he is, he is likely to close a lot of games for the Raptors in the coming months. The final battle might come down to Fred VanVleet vs. Norman Powell. 

3. Ibaka vs. Gasol

I was surprised to see Serge Ibaka close out the game against the Lakers with Marc Gasol sitting on the bench, but Ibaka has clearly earned a lot of trust from Nick Nurse during Gasol’s injury-riddled season. 

Yes, the numbers say that Gasol had a bigger impact on the game, especially defensively. But the fact that Ibaka is closing games and pushing Nurse to create big lineups with two big men on the floor shows just how important Ibaka is to this team, especially his scoring.

We assume because of how last year’s playoffs went that it will be a similar big man rotation this time around, but this team is different. The Raptors don’t have a problem defending, but they do have trouble scoring. The Raptors need to find scoring any way they can, and that might mean more Ibaka minutes than we might have originally expected, whether those come with Gasol or as the lone big man on the floor. 

There will be times when the Raptors just need another finisher rather than a creator, and Ibaka has proven to be a great finisher throughout the season, hitting 39.3 percent of his threes and 56.2 percent of his twos this season. We thought skinny Gasol might provide more of that finishing, but we have not seen much of that yet.

4. Bench

I recently made the case that the Raptors will only go as far as their best seven players take them, which I encourage you to read if you want to get a sense of how little this upcoming point will matter in the playoffs.

But during the seeding games, it is not sustainable for Nurse to play veterans like Lowry for 40 minutes per game. He has to find at least one reliable guy off the bench who he can trust for extended minutes, whether that is Terrance Davis II or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or both, to give the top seven players some rest. The last thing the Raptors want is an injury, and playing the front of their rotation big minutes on short rest in between games is not a recipe for success.

5. Schedule

Nick Nurse originally planned on easing his rotation into these seeding games, but after playing VanVleet and Kyle Lowry 40 minutes each on Saturday night, it doesn’t look like that will happen.

This upcoming week is the most important of the Raptors’ seeding games schedule. It represents their two easiest opponents — Orlando and Memphis — and matchups with the Celtics and Heat, ranked 3rd and 4th in the conference, respectively. If the Raptors have a good week they will almost guarantee a 2nd place finish, which is very important considering Jonathan Isaac’s unfortunate injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season including a likely first-round matchup between the Magic and Raptors. If the Raptors stumble, losing to the Celtics and more, they will have to fight hard in the back end of their schedule, which happens to be incredibly tough. 

Have a great week! I will be away next week but will be back on Monday, August 17th with the next five storylines.

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