A win is a win is a win, as Kyle Lowry loves to remind media, but that doesn’t mean it was as encouraging as any other win. Samson covered all of the tactical stuff in his gamer here and his pod here. I wrote here about Toronto’s bizarre lack of focus and consistency in the game.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to me out of the first of two Charlotte games is that Toronto is shifting its defensive schemes from what it’s practiced over the last year and a half. With Marc Gasol no longer in the fold, it’s possible that the Raptors no longer want to run their infinite-rotation defensive package. Without the trust that there will be a big both to quarterback the rotations and to fill the gaps created by players flying to the rim, the scheme may no longer work. And that’s despite having four defenders who are perfect within the scheme, in Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam. But the defense that Toronto played last year requires five players who can read each others’ minds, and nobody else has shown the ability to step into that role.
Instead Toronto is asking its players to switch everything. Not with either of its traditional centers, in Aron Baynes or Alex Len, on the floor, but Toronto is playing few minutes with a traditional center. When Chris Boucher or Anunoby or playing center, the Raptors are switching a lot. That hasn’t worked very well. Boucher can clean up some messes, but he still doesn’t recognize reads instantaneously on the defensive end. Powell’s defense has slipped. The fact of the matter is that the Raptors only have four elite defenders on the roster at the moment, and that’s problematic that no matter what they do, they can’t put five on the floor together.
Maybe Boucher starts making faster reads (and I’m actually pretty high on the likelihood of that happening over the next few months). Maybe Flynn earns more trust, although it’s iffy whether a lineup with Lowry, VanVleet, and Flynn together wouldn’t have some defensive holes.
The defensive end has been part of Toronto’s troubles. Not the whole thing. Hitting 20 threes against the Hornets helped paper over those issues in game one, but there are other elements to watch for in this second game if you’re looking to see whether Toronto has returned to being their old self.
For one, how many paint touches are they creating? VanVleet was solid at hitting the paint and hitting to shooters against Charlotte. Lowry took over at parts and found layups. Siakam drew plenty of attention in game one before he even made a move, so him being able to use that and work off ball to create for himself as well as others would help even more. If Toronto misses from deep, from where will their offense come?
Tipoff: 7:30pm EST | TV: TSN
Patrick McCaw remains out. It’s pretty much anyone’s guess as to Toronto’s starting center at this point. Let’s put Boucher in there for fun.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Malachi Flynn
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas, Jalen Harris
SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, DeAndre Bembry, Paul Watson
PF: Pascal Siakam, Yuta Watanabe
C: Chris Boucher, Aron Baynes, Alex Len
Grant Riller (left knee) is out. Gordon Hayward (questionable) is out. Cody Zeller (hand) is out.
PG: Devonte’ Graham, LaMelo Ball, Nate Darling
SG: Terry Rozier, Malik Monk
SF: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin
PF: PJ Washington, Miles Bridges, Jalen McDaniels
C: Bismack Biyombo, Vernon Carey Jr., Nick Richards