/

Ten things I dig and don’t dig about the Toronto Raptors’ preseason

It's Game Day Numero Uno, but before all the hullaballoo boils over, let's chat 10 things I dig and don't dig about the Toronto Raptors' preseason and discuss what to expect moving forward.

19 mins read
3
Handsome Photos via Raptors Twitter

Today commences the Toronto Raptors’ 2021-22 NBA season.

I’ve never watched a preseason so vehemently. There’s a pulse with this team (see #1 below) and fanbase reverberating across Canada . It might be the Raptors’ return to Toronto or even the League’s return to [mostly] normalcy – excluding Kyriesearch Irvulnerableing, Ben AcriSimmonsy, and Bradley Bealieve-it-when-I-don’t-smell-it. 

Whatever it is, I. AM. STOKED.

Before we thump the Wizards tonight, let’s chat about ten things I dig and don’t dig about the Toronto Raptors’ preseason and what to look forward to for the next 82 games. 

     1. Blood and Vinegar

There’s an unanticipated energy rising from this team like the sudden, stinky, silent farts that mushroom from my sleeping dog – in a good way.

Maybe, it’s the collective thrill and confidence of getting paid. Our standard starting five – Pascal. Fred. OG. Gary. Khem. – are locked in. 

Might be the excitement of taking the reins. This is the Pascal, Fred, and OG triumvirate’s team. Each is primed for an All-Star-caliber type season. The ceiling’s heights and floor’s depths teeter upon their success.

It could also just be the unremitting energy of Toronto’s youth. Yuta Watanabe, Precious Achiuwa, Scottie Barnes, Dalano Banton, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Justin Champagnie (and now Isaac Bonga [I’m not so sure about Sam Dekker yet]) are like a raiding party roaring ashore. Opposing teams scramble frantically as these long, athletic, berzerkers pillage ballhandlers and swarm attackers. 

Watch Scottie flush the eventually-1/11 Bradley Beal out like a mongoose coaxing a cobra right into the Precious Achiuwa ambush. 

Their stratagem is havoc and confusion. Where extremely aggressive exuberance forces opponents into uncomfortable situations. Out of that comes mistakes and opportunities for this cast of bench warriors to burst into transition and cause utmost damage.

That shit is contagious. I feel the palpability and I’m 3000 kilometres away.

I can only imagine what practices are like. 

From a product value perspective, this is Squid Games-type basketball. Win or lose, there’s immense pleasure watching these guys harangue others. We saw, firsthand, the utter dejection of the Philadelphia 76ers as the Raptors ran the ball down their throats over and over again.

Their energy, at its most electric, is a double-doozy: it invigorates teammates; it disembowels opponents. 

     2. The Ish Wainright Departure

We all knew it was down to two.

If I were an oddsmaker, Yuta Watanabe was -10000 to make the team.

Isaac Bonga (-450) quickly proved that his combined youth, length, ballhandling, and defence made him worthy of a flyer.

Reggie Perry (+15000) never had a chance. Freddy Gillespie’s (+450) – bless his heart – fate was sealed in Summer League.

That left Ish Wainright (-120) and Sam Dekker (+140). 

Both emigrated from overseas to give it a go. Both fit the Raptors’ archetype (Ish is 6’4” with a 7’1” wingspan, Dekker 6’9” and 6’10” respectively). Both underwhelmed in the preseason, almost.

Ish showed a bit of herbaceous funk in Summer League. He had two steals a game and hit approximately 33% of his threes [there was an Ish Wainright and Ishmael Wainright in the stats so I combined their statistics presuming it an error]. He looked like a man among youths and carried a dependable strength on defence that a coach trusts alongside a younger, frenetic bench unit (see Point #1 above).

In preseason, his lack of explosiveness and inability to create on offence or shoot the ball consistently really affected his chances of making the team. He only played 35 minutes in three games; he seemed relegated to the 15th spot or nothin’.

That said, I had this feeling he was going to make it. He proved to be profoundly likable; he was always smiling; worked hard; an open book to media; and carried himself like a professional.

I suggested in the Rap Up that scrimmages with him are likely extremely violent. That’s what you want from your last roster spots. Someone that holds the others accountable at every second of every practice everyday. Ish had that look to him. I thought that’d keep him around.

And, if it weren’t for one-quarter of South-Carolina-Reaper-hot shooting from Sam Dekker it probably would have. 

I can only imagine how Ish felt sitting there watching his chances slip away bucket-after-bucket. Sour pickles.

You never really know why fringe decisions are made. A proper internal decision-making mechanism is nuanced and stringent – unless you’re, like, Robert Sarver or the Sacramento Kings. But it sure did look like Dekker made this team by the skin of his teeth at the last possible moment.

He was invited to camp because of his hellfire shooting. But up until that fairy tale fourth Q against Washington, Dekker had played a total of 17 minutes in 3 games, scored 5 points, and shot 1/3 from three.

To me, he lacks the explosiveness to get open or survive multiple possessions on defence. He’s, effectively, a tall, worse-shooting Matt Thomas. Nurse more or less said so.

I don’t anticipate him having much of an impact this season. I still find myself wIshing for Wainright and his intangibles.

     3. Speeding the Game UP!

This was announced by the NBA recently.

Thank goodness, they figured this out.

I don’t know if the NBA’s aware or not, but our attention spans are dissipating like the Greenland ice sheet.

Between the number of timeouts, coaches’ challenges, out-of-bounds reviews, potential Flagrant Fouls, and commercial breaks, there’s a good hour of non-basketball in a basketball game. I can’t recall the podcaster who made this analogy, but it’s like playing the credits in the middle of the movie.

Total sewering of a product. And it’s going to cost them more and more younger fans who can’t tolerate those kinds of lulls.

I know, I struggle. There have been countless occurrences where the tension and excitement of a game is at its highest and then there’s fifteen minutes of delay to discuss a controversial play with Secaucus.

This is a start in the right direction; they need to continue working on ways to speed up the experience. For example,

     4. Precious Power

Not to gloat. But I saw this coming.

My last 10 things I dig, I said so: all Summer Leaguer + Olympian Precious Achuiwa signs pointed to offensive growth.

Did I think he’d take a pass and purposely step back for a three. 

No.

Nor was I sure he could sneak a fadeaway so delicately.

But we saw him run coast-to-coast before. And we’re going to see it a lot more as a counter to size differential. Lumbering bigs aren’t used to turning and sprinting back to stop something like this:​​

His defence is also more whole than I thought. True, he’ll falter against girthier guys. Andre Drummond had his way early in the first preseason game. Precious did all he could do facing up Joel Embid. 

At the same time, Precious is very comfortable stepping out to stretch-bigs like Embiid, challenging his jumpshot and hampering his pump-and-drives. It’s a worthwhile exchange to have someone who prowls the perimeter so flexibly. 

Precious froze guards on switches in the preseason. Disarming them long enough to allow his teammates to recover. 

Towards the end of the year, Precious may be the pièce de résistance to this team’s offence. His ability to run, shoot at a decent clip, and create off the dribble, in limited situations, will keep opposing bigs honest (and tired) and carve out space in the paint for the rest.

     5. Running a Deflectathon

Indiana led the league with 17 deflections per game last year.

In the preseason, the Toronto Raptors averaged 22.4.

Deflections will be a bit of a bell-weather for their scheme.

Higher rate of deflections: Yay. Oppressive, frisky defence authorized.

Lower rate of deflections:  Durp. Inverted teams of the future anticipated Toronto’s every move.

Okay, they’re not that definitive, but you know what I mean. Many deflections will be indicative of a defence doing what it set out to do: making life harder for other teams wanting to run their usual Xs & Os.

     6. Big Ol’ Barnes

More Barnes talk, I know. Get used to it. 

I worry for him, offensively, as teams figure him out and pace slows. Teams will sag. Helpside will plug the paint and force him into a pull-up – something he’s working on, but is unreliable. 

He’s already running dribble-hand-offs and screens. They’re great ways to open space for him without having to ballhandle or attack in isolation off the dribble.

Two other ways he makes a profound impact offensively is rebounding and post play. 

The former goes without saying. Barnes could be the greatest scorer all-time and he’d still be throwing himself at the glass like a World War Z zombie. He’s going to be the bigger of his matchups. Perimeter players box out less diligently. It’s exhausting to keep a 6’7”, 225 lbs warhorse at bay.

He easily overpowered somewhat similarly sized Matisse Thybulle and Jayson Tatum. There’s not much bigger that will guard him regularly. He’ll have field days.

The latter will depend on personnel and Nurse. It’s there. His vision figuratively and metaphorically are high. Barnes is already directing movement and seeing things unfold as they go. As a towering sentinel, he can observe the court freely overtop. 

If defenders overconfidently get to close and obfuscate his view, he zhoooooops right past them with one big lunge to the rim. 

Post – low and high – is a nice cheat to get the Raps offence out of a state of stagnancy. They can run a lot of options strong and weakside with Barnes functioning as the hub. You already see it with the dribble-hand-offs. As he begins to get comfortable shooting the elbow jumper or pounding the ball down low into a baby hook or fade, spot-up shooters and cutters will feast. 

     7. Broadcasting Blahs

Here I was, thinking Leo Rautins was off to Boca Raton for full-time retirement with Sportsnet announcing his departure.

Then I get walloped by this turn of events:

(Props on the tweet comedy.)

I find his announcing hollow and boring. TSN had an opportunity to spice it up. His hire is the equivalent of adding dried tarragon 🤢.

Speaking of not spicing it up. Sportsnet’s replacement is beloved Raptor alum, Alvin Williams. So far, not so good.

He has the NBA player insight, which I love. And the odd anecdote. But he’s bumbling, repetitive, nervous (who wouldn’t be), and flat. I’m hoping over time he’ll smooth out. I’ll afford him the benefit of the doubt. But honestly…

WHY DOES KIA NURSE NOT HAVE A JOB YET!?

     8. Auto-Jack Gary

Gary Trent Jr.

Gary. Trent. Jr., what praytell are we going to do with you?

On the one hand, I love your swagger. On the other, I abhor your confidence.

He’s the overzealous bass player trying to nudge the lead singer off centre stage. Gary’s no John Lennon. Not yet, at least.

Case in point: in 4 games of preseason he took 12 shots per game, second only to OG; yet, he was fifth in field goals made with 4 per game. 

He’s a legitimate scorer. I admit. Just not at the efficiency that legitimizes his inclination to jack – the Arsenalist talked about this yesterday. Last year, we desperately needed him to score. This year we’ve a larger quiver of arrows.

Toronto has a plethora of playmakers. Unsticky hands and unanchored feet are tantamount.

GTJ’s hands are stickier than a 3-year old mucking maple-syrup-soaked-pancakes. He held the ball on average last year for 2.79 seconds, as much as Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown and more than Nikola Jokić. He also averaged as many dribbles per touch as Kevin Durant, Tobias Harris, and Jaylen. Those stats can be tricky based on context, but every one of those players are focal points for their teams – Gary ain’t.

After joining Toronto last year, he was in the 21st percentile for effective field goal percentage and 78th percentile for usage rate. A lot was asked of him; he was thrust into an unsupportive situation. Still, he demonstrated his limited offensive proficiency.

His time to create will come with more development and a better sense of when and where to attack. With Scottie’s aforementioned passing and FVV, OG, and Pascal probing defences, though, Gary will be needed as the off-ball release guy hitting open shots and attacking rotating defenders.

Which is not a lot to ask of him. He’s a great cutter. He finds open seams in the paint and fills gaps on the perimeter. He, along with Fred and OG, are best at relocating and the most threatening.

Toronto needs more of that from him and less of the auto-launch.

     9. Bank-Shot Buzzer Beaters

Not one, but two. In the same game. That’s fun.

One from the Home Town Kid:

One from Malachi:

    10. OG Power-Ups

NBA players are in for a world of hurt.

The power of OG is to be unleashed upon the League.

His strength is a known unknown – growing by the microsecond. We’ve seen him dislodge guys before. But with his added offensive tools, increased usage, and surging confidence, we’re about to see some Anunobyhillation.

Romeo Langford already got a taste.

So did Alperen Şengün.

3 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.