Are there silver linings in such a frustrating season?
Honestly, for what feels like a season from hell, yes, there are plenty of silver linings (again, optimism may vary depending on how you view the players on the current roster).
For one, the Raptors have done a pretty good job of fixing the roster on the margins with the signings of Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie. Both players feel like they can be not just short-term solutions but potentially part of the team’s plans moving forward.
The biggest reason for optimism of late has been the development of Anunoby, who continues to raise his ceiling.
Siakam’s numbers look similar to his All-NBA season last year than most would think, although he does feel more like an elite supporting player on a contender than a No. 1 option.
VanVleet was playing at a near all-star level before the virus and injuries derailed his season.
Chris Boucher made a leap and is a capable rotation player.
Malachi Flynn is having a strong finish to his rookie year.
The team turned Powell into Gary Trent Jr., who has shown flashes of brilliance and gives the Raptors a young player they can develop in their system, assuming he re-signs this summer.
Even with time having probably run out on this team making the playoffs, you can see the outline of a 50-win team here.
They’re going to need to address a few needs off the bench and might have to replace Lowry if he leaves this offseason, but relatively speaking, this team is finishing the year off on a bit of a high even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.
The biggest silver lining, of course, will be the team getting a lottery pick to add another young talent to their roster or use it as a trade chip to upgrade the team this summer.
This Week: 21
Last Week: 21
Sunday night’s impressive road win over the Lakers still leaves Toronto with a very steep hill to climb to make it into the play-in tournament, as the Raptors are 2.5 games behind the Wizards with nine remaining. What will likely matter more in the end to the Raptors is where they finish alongside the Bulls and Kings for positions seven through nine in the NBA draft lottery. — Bontemps
This Week: 22
Last Week: 20
27-38, +0.4 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Cavs, Loss to Nets, Loss at Nuggets, Loss at Jazz, Win at Lakers
Prediction for the final stretch/playoffs: We get rumors about a mass exodus from Toronto.
Raptors fans, notice I used the word rumors. Not that it happens. But it feels like we could see plenty of hemming and hawing about where the Raptors go from here after this season. They’re not even making the play-in tournament, so it’s going to feel like a real low point compared to the last couple of seasons. Any time you talk to someone about the Raptors and their future, Masai Ujiri not having a contract extension comes up. There’s also Kyle Lowry’s impending free agency. And with the way Pascal Siakam has struggled at times this season, questions about his role on the team have and will continue to come up. That doesn’t mean things are bad. They had the most chaotic season of all, and this organization getting back to normal life will see them surge next season.
Why are they ranked here? Brutal schedule this week that can’t be boosted by a win over Cleveland or even the Lakers. They fall a couple of spots because the others around them are a bit better.
This Week: 21
Last Week: 23
In a rare five-game week, the Raptors beat the Cavs and Lakers with losses to the Nets, Nuggets and Jazz. Sunday’s win brings Toronto within two games of the Wizards in the loss column for the final play-in spot. With regulars Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby back in the lineup, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world to see a late run from the Raptors.
This Week: 21
Last Week: 21
Pace: 99.6 (14) OffRtg: 112.2 (13) DefRtg: 111.7 (14) NetRtg: +0.5 (15)
Playing five games in seven days last week, the Raptors didn’t put their full starting lineup on the floor in any of the last three, with Fred VanVleet missing two games and Kyle Lowry resting for one. But they were competitive in Denver and Utah before scoring running out of gas in the fourth quarter both nights. And with Lowry catching fire (and playing 41 minutes), the Raptors beat the Lakers on Sunday. They’re now 9-14 (with a positive point differential, of course) against the 11 teams that are currently at least eight games over .500, having yet to play Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers. The first meeting is Tuesday and the Clippers are in Tampa a week later.
It’s hard to see month-to-month or every-10-game progress in Pascal Siakam’s numbers, because he still has some rough nights, like when he shot 2-for-16 against Brooklyn on Tuesday. His effective field goal percentage for the season (49.2%) is still a career-low mark. But the good games have been a little more frequent of late, and he scored a season-high 39 points on 15-for-26 shooting in the win over the Lakers.
The Raptors last chance to make the race for the last Play-In spot interesting is Thursday, when they host the Wizards, having already won the season series. They would still need additional help, but it wouldn’t be uncharacteristic for the Wizards, even after a strong last four weeks, to lose to teams they’re supposed to beat.
Now, it’s not as if Watanabe is going to be the NBA’s defensive player of the year any time, and it’s unlikely he’ll become the most versatile defender in the game today. But it is comforting for Nurse to know that he’ll get a consistent effort with relatively few glaring mistakes when he asks the six-foot-nine native of Japan to pay particular attention to someone.
And it is because of that ability to energize a game defensively that the Raptors now see Watanabe as a valuable second unit piece.
“I think where I’m at is this: I really do like Yuta as a bench player,” Nurse said this week. ”I’ve considered starting him here a little bit recently and I keep coming back to I just like his energy and his style of play and all those kind of things that fit in.
“I’m trying to find out if he can be a regular sixth, seventh, eighth man in this league. I think he’s getting better and progressing but he’s kind of coming from nowhere, so I think the progression he’s made is here.”
There are some holes in Watanabe’s game but that’s hardly unexpected; there are holes in the game of almost every NBA player with only 79 games of experience to fall back on.
The Raptors would like Watanabe to be more assertive offensively and shoot more frequently but there’s no reason to think he won’t give them what they want.
The 26-year-old has expanded his game throughout the season, both attacking the paint and getting up corner threes. He’s a better ball mover now than he was early in the season and, with some time in Toronto’s developmental program, he could very well take giant leaps before next season.