Kyle Lowry looked like he was 27 going on 26

The fountain of youth is on a lifelong quest for Kyle Lowry.

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TAMPA BAY, FL - DECEMBER 18 - Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Pascal Siakam running the offense in long stretches is my dream for this season. Bringing it up and passing it off to a wing to kickstart the play is nice, but watching him try to create off the dribble is community theater – it’s like watching an artist try to learn a craft. If he’s able to unlock this skill his entire game is elevated to new heights. It’s not unreasonable to think that he should be able to navigate defenses the way Jayson Tatum might with enough attention to that aspect of the game. Tatum is 6’8” and Siakam is an inch taller. Their backgrounds are quite different, one grew up with the ball in his hands and one picked it up very late, but Siakam has enough desire and skill to make it a formidable part of his game. Basically, build on this play and create even when the defense is a little more set:

He was 4-7 3FG last night but struggled finding good shots in the half-court, often banking on those tight-angle drives that have to be just perfect off the glass to have a chance. Defensively, he’s probably the best on the team. He’s only credited with one steal but the amount of movement he forces is considerable, and a lot of the sticky situations that offenses find themselves in later in the clock is due to his earlier work.

This game was about Kyle Lowry’s return and he looked to be in fantastic shape and form. You may as well have been watching a mid-season game – there was a hop in the step and he shot 6-10 from three but my favorite play was this one:

Lowry at his best: slipping and weaving around defenders to find a spot in the defense that he’s comfortable with clearing space with that giant butt of his. There’s a different energy when he’s on the floor, pure and simple. He had 25 points and probably could’ve had 40 the way he was going. Nick Nurse decided to pull him after 27 minutes which is something I’m guessing we’re going to see more of this season than ever before. That’s awesome as long as we’re able to see more of this:

I have a feeling he’ll be able to make plays like these five years from now.

Poor shooting nights from Fred VanVleet (3-11 FG) and Siakam (5-15 FG) slowed the offense but the bench is usually around to pick things up. Not tonight. Chris Boucher’s two early threes were the most memorable contributions of the second unit which struggled to keep guys in front of them. Kz Okpala and Max Strus profited by not hesitating from three – they were a combined 12-18 3FG, a likely sore point for Nurse. The Raptors lineup is the process of figuring each other out and those head-shakes and looks of disbelief we saw after Miami scored were signs that guys are figuring out just where to be when. Normal stuff.

Miami nursed around a 12 point lead in the fourth and it quickly became evident that there was no comeback. Bench scoring is probably going to be a concern for Nurse and he’ll have to mix starter/bench lineups more than ever. Of Matt Thomas, Norman Powell, Chris Boucher, DeAndre Bembry and Malchi Flynn, I’d probably bet Flynn to be the most able to consistently create offense for the unit. He got in only 11 minutes last night due to Lowry playing more, but even in limited minutes he showed a level of composure, ball-handling and decision-making that is beyond a rookie’s scope. This guy will play a lot more.

The Raptors jacked up 59 threes in the game hitting 21 making for a 36% clip (compared to Miami’s 19-37, 51%). Many of them were poor shots hoisted without enough options explored which led to run-outs, and when you get out-boarded 51-38, that’s just throwing fuel to the fire.

OG struggled on offense but there’s something to be said about his (and Chris Boucher’s) one-on-one defense against Adebayo on a couple possessions, if only to remind us that one is a great defender and the other has potential. Boucher needs to figure out how to use his length at this level and that’ll only come with the experience of seeing some of the shakes he saw today. He’s a month away from being a month away for another firm evaluation. Until then, be the sponge you are. This play where he pressured the guard leading to the steal and then ran on the wing for the breakaway two is how he can make his mark.

For OG though, hesitancy kills his offense. He has a tendency to pause and allow the defense to catch up to him and take away space. That is probably the number one thing for him to work on: quicker decision-making when he catches the ball. All of his offensive struggles boil down to him not thinking quick enough on his feet. The rest – the pull-up jumper, the floater – will come, but the main thing will be knowing when to take what’s on offer.

Perhaps we saw what the rotation might look like to start. I say to start because in a year which is ultimately about collective growth there will be plenty of experimentation, so high permutations are likely. Baynes will likely get the start just based on experience and with that comes some solid screen-setting to set up guard actions. That alone arguably warrants a start. It’s much more difficult to play pick ‘n roll with the wiry Boucher than the sturdy Baynes, though the latter’s post-pick actions were quite poor and unsure. Boucher’s two bombs from three gave us a glimpse of how he could spread the floor. When both are going the Raptors have options on the dive and the wing.

The Matt Thomas/Norman Powell/Terence Davis rotation is just a wash to me right now. All three bring different things and solve different problems, so it’s hard to stack rank them in a rotation. It’s all too situational and it’ll come down to how the balance of their three-point shooting and defense weighs in Nick Nurse’s mind. Thomas’s defense is well below the other two but he spreads the floor better than anyone. Davis is the quickest with the ball and Powell has the defense, scoring and a better off-the-ball game. Whatever you need at the time you go with. Malachi Flynn is the one who will come calling for minutes and the question is at whose expense will they be. Of the three he’s most similar to Davis.

For what it’s worth, Matt Thomas entered for OG, Boucher for Baynes and Powell for Lowry, as the Raptors opted to go smaller, which on this night just meant bombing away threes more quickly. Poor three-point shooting is survivable if there is good rebounding but as mentioned, that was -13. Perhaps that’s the biggest area of concern. Losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol in the middle and replacing them with Boucher and Aron Baynes is a big drop-off. No matter how much the team pitches in this will hurt on nights when the shot’s not dropping.

Closing off, here’s Yuta Watanabe. It’s going to be fun tracking him:

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