L to Memphis makes the Raptors future intentions crystal clear

14 mins read
Via: Sportsnet

First things first, Louis Zatzman took care of the quick reaction, Samson Folk handled business with the quick reaction podcast, and Oren Wesfield and Sahal Abdi came through with the Rap Up, right below.

It’s like a load has been lifted off of the Toronto Raptors’ shoulders. After some very unclear indications as to what the future holds, the rain has fallen and it is evident as ever that the Raptors will begin their offseason after just four more games. It was clear before the game even started, considering that OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, and Kyle Lowry all sat this one out.  At some point in the second quarter, Nick Nurse was talking about Malachi Flynn and he mentioned how “we’re going to put this season in the books somewhere in the near future,” all but alluding to the obvious.

On that note, I’m already dreaming about Jalen Johnson in a Raptors uniform next season. The Memphis Grizzlies, on the other hand, are in a play-in battle of their own and their chance of securing a seed between seven to 10 is far more realistic than the Raptors’. With that being said, this might have been one of the ugliest games of the year. Toronto shot the ball terribly and it might’ve had something to do with the team incorporating their franchise-record 34th starting lineup of the year:

Via: TheScore

Something that was apparent out of the gate was the low energy. Pascal Siakam, the obvious number one option on offense, set the tone early, passing the ball up instead of driving or attacking the rim. In fact, his first attempt at taking the ball inside for a layup (not including floaters, but going straight to the rim) came with 3:39 left to go in the second quarter. Part of the reason he wasn’t so eager to attack the basket, is because of Jonas Valanciunas absolutely bullying the Raptors on his way to 18 points, 21 boards and four blocks. JV was dominant in this one, over-powering Khem Birch and smothering him like right here:

Yuta Watanabe was the lone Raptor to start the game as if he’d had a couple of Red Bulls prior to tipoff, knocking down a three and chasing after a ball going out-of-bounds and tossing it off of Kyle Anderson, to get the Raps another possession. But the Grizzlies just didn’t let up, playing physical and exhaustive defense like right here:

And because of Valanciunas being such a menacing presence in the paint, the Raptors were relegated to taking mid-range and three-point shots, without three of their best shooters. That game plan didn’t work out well, as evidenced by the graphic above. But, there were several opportunities (including a 10-0 run in the fourth, bringing the Raps to within one point of Memphis, 85-84) to capitalize and get the W.

However, Nurse made subs a lot earlier than usual, putting Jalen Harris, DeAndre’ Bembry, and Freddie Gillespie in with a little more than six minutes left in the first quarter. The starting lineup of the second quarter had signalled that Nurse was trying to decipher his bench better, but also figuring out who might emerge with some offensive firepower. Said lineup included Harris, Bembry, Stanley Johnson, Rodney Hood, and Gillespie, none of whom average more than six points a game.

Out of that lineup, Harris managed to contribute 16 points on a decent 5-12 shooting, while not missing any of his six free throws, along with connecting on two treys. Harris’ first bucket was a promising sign for what he could become. He took the ball off of Gillespie, coming off of a high screen set from the big man. He then drove left and came down towards the baseline and hit an off-balance shot while being completely smothered by Ja Morant. Whether the shot was lucky or not is really unclear since Harris hasn’t seen the court a lot this year.

I fully expect that to change after tonights game and with the Raptors waving the white flag. In college, Harris was seen as a solid point forward but he hasn’t showed any flashes of that in his, thus far, brief NBA stint. He then caught a pass from a cutting Bembry, and successfully connected on a catch-and-shoot three. His third basket was a fast break against Dillon Brooks, laying it up-and-under for the reverse:

I’m not a Jalen Harris stan just yet. But, I do think he should get more run and there really isn’t any reason why he shouldn’t given the predictable ending. I also enjoyed his commentary on how the game is slowing down with every moment he’s on the court. I mean, what do we even say at this point? Yeah, he was the 59th pick in the 2020 draft but the Raptors development system is so far ahead of any other teams, this kind of production doesn’t surprise you. It does however, make the ending to this season that much easier. Although, I’m extremely intrigued to see what else Harris can do in the minutes he’s allotted for the remaining games.

My take of the way Siakam played was that he was just tired and disinterested. After a career night against Washington that resulted in a loss, his body language gave off the impression that he wasn’t really engaged in the game. Things like passing the ball more often than he usually does, settling for fade aways and floaters, is what brought upon that conclusion.

But he knew that he was physically outmatched against Valanciunas and that was evident based on his tendency to shoot over instead of go into JV. Specifically, at the 10:19 mark in the first quarter. Siakam gets the ball at the elbow, and then drives into Valanciunas before spinning back, and settling for a fadeaway jumper that bricks.

You can chalk it up however you want but after scoring 44, 24, and 39 in the last three games, respectively, Toronto should’ve sat him along with the rest of the core. Another thing that stuck with me is how he might be feeling after he got booed at the free throw line for a ‘home game’ on Thursday against Washington.

With all the misery this season has caused, the degree of difficulty for the Raptors season this year was more apparent than ever with Siakam being treated so poorly by the Tampa area after he had a career night. He ended up leaving the game in the fourth quarter after straining his left shoulder during a brush up with Brandon Clarke.

With all this taken into account, the offense was simply not flowing. The game never really got out of reach, even when Memphis went on a 13-5 run, right after Toronto completed a 10-0 run of their own. The Raptors continued to attack the paint, while Valanciunas was out. However, they couldn’t get a handle on things.

The game was winnable wit 2:35 left, with the Grizzlies leading 100-92. But, instead of pressing, the Raptors opted to pick things up at half court. At the 1:25 mark of the fourth, Anderson spun past Flynn with relative ease and that’s when I officially threw the towel in. Once Malachi Flynn is allowing things like that to happen, the future goals become even more apparent.

Malachi Flynn played like the leader he’s shown flashes of. 15 points and seven boards on 6-11 shooting. At this point there’s no question of whether he can become a quality rotational player. After winning the Eastern Conference Rookie of the month Award, Toronto needs to look into how Flynn will factor in more frequently next season. It may be easier to find minutes for him if Lowry leaves. But if he doesn’t, Flynn will still have a defined role as the primary back up guard, in a three-guard rotation.

But what does that mean for Gary Trent Jr.? He hit 18 points on 6-18 shooting but he’s had better nights. Most of which have come as a starter. In fact, Trent is far more affective as a starter than he is coming off the bench. Take a look:

Via: Basketball-Reference.com

That backcourt is crowded and if Toronto’s looking towards building for the future, signing-and-trading Lowry for one or two capable rotation pieces, while moving Trent into the starting lineup next season seems like a safe bet. One thing that sticks out is his reliance on being a shooter. For the most part, Toronto is a three-point shooting team and that’s not going to change next year.

But as Trent figures to be a big part of the teams future, he’ll need to develop ways to attack the rim and if he can become a secondary, or even a tertiary playmaker, it’ll enhance his game that much more. There’s not a scenario that plays out where Trent doesn’t come back to Toronto, unless a team offers him a ludicrous contract, more expensive than anything the Raptors would be willing to match. I’d say three-years, $55-60 million is decent.

Freddie Gillespie was a bright light. Coming in as a high-energy spark plug all season has been a role he’s fulfilled so seamlessly. Scoring six points and conjuring eight boards was great production. I value his numbers a little higher however because of the fact that he did this against a much larger and more experienced Valanciunas. He’s not as strong as the former Raptor but he put up a fight and without his eight boards this would have been a blowout. If he can put on some weight in the summer and come back about 10-15 pounds heavier, he might earn a longer stay.

This is going to be an interesting off-season. Although, I think most of us can agree it was inevitable. It’s been a tough year for the team and for fans. Hopefully when things start again next year, the Raptors will be back home in Toronto. For now, let’s get ready for the draft.

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