Five — Dalano Banton is an intriguing option as the backup point guard. He doesn’t provide what the Raptors want most from their guards, which is shooting, but he contributes in other areas. Banton is quick and shifty and is usually able to get downhill, such as on his first play of the game where he blew past his defender to draw a foul in the lane. That ability to penetrate also opens up his passing game, where he is error prone, yet also crafty in the types of passes he can make.
Defensively, Banton gives the Raptors length and is a huge upgrade over Dragic, who generally gets targeted. Banton would make sense in the all-wing lineup that Nurse tried in Monday’s game, which didn’t fully work because there wasn’t a distributor who could organize the play.
There will be, and have been, plenty of possessions in which the Raptors do not create decent looks for themselves this season. In a way, that makes VanVleet the new DeRozan, at least until Pascal Siakam returns to ease the offensive burden. Through three games, VanVleet was second in shot attempts to OG Anunoby and first in assists and turnovers, proving how much the Raptors’ lagging offence has relied on the guard. Against the Bulls, he took on more of a passing mindset, especially early on. Again, the assists and turnovers piled up, with career highs in both — 17 and eight, respectively. Nick Nurse played him for nearly 43 minutes. That’s how much of a chance the coach thinks his team has without the point guard.
VanVleet can be dinged for a lack of efficiency so far, mostly owing to his slow start from 3-point range, but those dismissing him for overshooting must not have watched the third quarter Friday against Dallas, when his midrange-roving saved many misbegotten Raptors possessions. He is often trying to conjure up something from nothing.
With Nurse saying the forwards and bigs who have the green light to take the ball up the floor are not doing it enough yet, and those players’ handles not necessarily standing up to the rigours of the league’s half-court defences, VanVleet needs to put a lot into motion himself. It’s different from DeRozan in the sense that that’s how the former Raptor had it at the beginning of his career, while VanVleet is now experiencing that responsibility for the first time in what figures to be his prime.
“I always have conversations about that with Freddy … now. This is a new dynamic,” DeRozan said. “The conversations I have with Fred now, (leading a rebuilding team) is a new dynamic in your career that you have to figure out. It’s tough. But every great player goes through it. There’s not too many guys that just have a polished career. It’s another obstacle you can learn from and build on and turn you into a much better player than you even knew you had in you.”
VanVleet, of course, is not a DeRozan-style player. He cannot vault up and get a jumper whenever he would like. That’s part of why he worked on extending his jumper well beyond the 3-point arc, unlike DeRozan, who had to be convinced to get both feet behind the line by the end of his nine-year run in Toronto. DeRozan’s evolution came as a playmaker for others, while VanVleet’s is going to have to be as a threat, either scoring or dishing out of the paint.
Chicago was in control most of the game – they led by 20 early in the third quarter and 15 early in the fourth, feasting on a steady diet of Raptors turnovers, ultimately turning 21 of them into 27 points — the type of transition scoring that is supposed to be Toronto’s bread-and-butter.
The Bulls were leading by 11 with 7:46 to play before a quick 9-0 Raptors spurt cut the Bulls’ lead to two with 4:49 to play. But it was DeRozan who took the temperature down notch for a new-look Bulls team that is figuring out how to close.
Immediately after being subbed back in the game he went to work on the perimeter until he got long-armed Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes switched on to him. DeRozan took him to the right elbow, rose up and stopped the Raptors’ run. Next possession, he worked OG Anunoby baseline and drained a fadeaway over his long fingers. With a little breathing room, the Bulls ran a nice two-man game with Nikola Vucevic and Zach Lavine until Lavine nailed a three to put Chicago up 10 with 2:45 to play.
But that was barely enough as the Bulls made four suspect turnovers in the final five minutes to keep the Raptors breathing.
As well, Fred VanVleet wouldn’t let the Raptors settle against the Bulls and his old mentor.
He set up a dunk for Precious Achuiwa after a steal, got to the line and made a pair after the Raptors forced another turnover and the pulled the Raptors within four before DeRozan backed down Gary Trent Jr. for another calming mid-range jumper. DeRozan then essentially iced the game with 24 seconds left when he drew a foul off an in-bounds play and made both free throws.
The Bulls other than DeRozan had their issues, however, underscoring his value.
Leading by four with 16 seconds left Lonzo Ball threw away an in-bounds pass, allowing Barnes to take it the other way for a dunk to cut Chicago’s lead to two with 13 seconds to go. Vucevic then missed a free throw that would have put Chicago buck up four. That set up a last-second game-tying triple by VanVleet but he couldn’t get to fall, pulling his jersey up after the buzzer in frustration.
DeRozan’s play down the stretch was vintage, the kind of close out he provided countless times in a Raptors uniform and it was the difference for the Bulls.
Just like the first three games, the Bulls started out slow slowly on offense, but the Raptors couldn’t take advantage. DeRozan was the only player who did much of anything for the Bulls early, scoring 11 points to help make it a 24-24 game after one.
The second was much better for the Bulls. They shot 14-of-22 overall and 4-of-7 from 3-point range to pour in 37 points in the frame. Lonzo Ball had nine points in the quarter, all of them off 3-point makes. Chicago was able to take advantage of some offensive mistakes by Toronto and cashed in on them. They finished the half strong by going on a 7-0 run in the final 1:33 to make it a double-digit lead (61-51) going into the break.
Third quarters don’t seem to be a problem for the Bulls anymore, as they once again started off a second half brilliantly. The deadly combination of the Bulls forcing turnovers and getting into transition quickly was on display. Within the first three minutes they had gone on a 12-2 run, with a LaVine and-1 dunk being the top highlight. In the blink of an eye it was a 20-point game and Chicago looked to be in control.
But Toronto responded and began to chip away at the lead. Slowly but steadily the Raptors would make mini-runs and started to make the game tense for the Bulls. Even during stretches where Chicago was up big, it still felt like the game was hanging in the balance as one big Toronto run could flip things on its head. Each time the Bulls looked like they were pulling away, the Raptors would fight back. They were able to get the deficit to within striking distance, 12 points, as we entered the fourth quarter.
Toronto was able to get the game within single digits with 9:07 left as Goran Dragic knocked down a couple of free throws. From then on it was a tense battle as the Raptors clearly had all of the momentum and the Bulls were trying to keep them at a distance.
Chicago’s offense in the fourth quarter didn’t help.
There were a lot of bad shots and panicked passes. That in turn gave Toronto ample opportunities to further cut into the lead. The Bulls’ sudden looseness with the ball against physical full-court pressure was problematic, resulting in multiple live-ball turnovers and points on the other end. Things got really tense with 4:49 left when OG Anunoby’s layup made it a 97-95 game. It felt like another one of those nightmare games we have seen in recent years from the Bulls where they build a big lead only for it to slip away in the final moments.
But this is where DeRozan stepped in and delivered for Chicago.
Down the stretch in this win over the Raptors, the spotlight was handed to the four-time All-Star selection and veteran star shooting guard/forward DeMar DeRozan. In the return to where his career started more than one decade ago in the NBA with the Raptors, DeRozan took full advantage of the spotlight in the second.
This was by no means the best performance you will ever see from DeRozan. But it was a clutch performance when the Bulls needed it most down the stretch.
DeRozan would score nearly half of his points in this game in the fourth quarter. His 11 points in the final quarter would also be more than half of the points that the Bulls scored in the fourth quarter (19 total for the team).
This performance as a whole isn’t going to look fantastic for DeRozan on the stat sheet. He finished up this game with a game-high 26 points, four rebounds, six assists, no steals, no blocks, and one turnover. And he shot just 7-of-19 from the field.
But DeRozan was also very efficient from beyond the arc and extremely efficient from the charity stripe. DeRozan shot 2-of-4 from beyond the arc and was perfect on 10 attempts from the free-throw line. That is where DeRozan made his money on this night.
The fact that DeRozan was able to go perfect on a double-digit number of free-throw attempts, shoot 50 percent from downtown, and register six assists with only one turnover, goes to show how important he will be at times to this Bulls offense in closing time.
And while VanVleet might be the most talked-about player coming out of this game, it was OG Anunoby who scored the most points for Toronto — 22, alongside eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. OG also had critical baskets during Toronto’s fourth quarter rally, but also found success early in the game in the post, working against Chicago’s smaller backcourt of Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. Anunoby started 1-for-5 from the field, but it’s that process of working out where his advantages are in-game that feels encouraging at this point in the season.
If this feels like too positive a recap for a loss, then let’s bring it down to earth. The Raptors were not sharp with the basketball – those 21 turnovers tell that story. They also continue to struggle finishing at the rim, both in the half court and, frustratingly, in transition. VanVleet, Precious Achiuwa and Goran Dragic all took turns missing makable layups or bunnies in this game. If only two of them had gone down, we might be looking at the Raptors’ first home win of the season.
Elsewhere on the box, Gary Trent Jr. had 18 points among the Raptors starters, while Scottie Barnes had a balanced 13 points on 75% shooting, four assists, a steal and a block.
For the Bulls, the experiment in guards seems to be working well, as they were able to use DeRozan late in the game to make some difficult contested jumpers in isolation. The former Raptor was in vintage form, getting both Barnes and Svi Mykhailiuk to bite on pump fakes in the first half, then making three difficult mid-range jumpers to give the Bulls just enough cushion in the fourth — two over Barnes and one spinning back over Anunoby. DeRozan would finish with a game-high 26 points on 19 shots, committing just one turnover.
DeRozan was supported by 22 points from LaVine, 17 points from Vucevic and 15 points from Ball.
Fred & Precious Can’t Find Connection
Something has been just a split second off between VanVleet and Precious Achiuwa this season. The two can’t seem to hook up in the pick-and-roll with any consistency. VanVleet will throw it up and Achiuwa can’t quite corral it, usually trying to slam it down with one hand. Maybe it’s something that’s just going to take some time, but if things can’t come together, it might be time to swap Khem Birch into the starting lineup as his chemistry with VanVleet seems a little further along.
The Raptors actually played pretty well in the first half, despite being down 10 at the break, according to Nick Nurse.
Then it fell apart.
That 10-point deficit became a 20-point hole in the first three minutes of the third quarter, taking a lot of steam out of them and a lot of energy out of the building.
Yeah, they got back in it and had a solid shot at the buzzer to force overtime but if they didn’t have that awful lull, all the late-game comeback stuff might not have been necessary.
Not much to be done about it, Nurse said.
“(I) didn’t think we came out with much energy to start the second and dug ourselves a little bit deeper a hole. But, again, they got some prolific shot-makers and they were making a few.
“Two turnovers, they come down and shoot a side-step three-point banker, bang in (another) three and that 12 turns to 18 pretty quick.
“It’s just kind of part of the game, I think.”
But those three- or five-minute stretches of so-so play are parts of the game the Raptors can ill afford.
3. Speaking of getting the ball up…
Fred and Goran both need to get into the frontcourt, and into the offense, faster after makes and dead balls. All too often the Raptors are starting their offense with fewer than 14 seconds or less on the shot clock.
In the fourth quarter last night, the Raptors had the cut the Bulls lad to one with just under nine minutes to go, and forced a turnover. OG inbounded the ball from the Bulls’ hashmark — and then took SEVEN SECONDS to cross halfcourt. By the time the Raptors got into the offense, there were 14 seconds left on the clock, and predictably, the play ended up with Anunoby forcing a shot, which got partially blocked and missed everything. The Raptors turned it over on a 24-second violation.
There’s absolutely no need for Fred to take that long to get from the hash to the frontcourt — especially in a situation where the Raptors had all the momentum.
The Raptors picked up their intensity in the fourth and wound up getting a 20-point game down to just two with a little over five minutes to go.
That’s when DeMar DeRozan, knowing his team needed to right the ship and right it quick, went into game-saving mode and pulled this one out for the visitors as Chicago got out of Toronto with a 111-108 win, their fourth in a row, to start the year.
DeRozan, who left Toronto in the Kawhi Leonard trade, finished with a game-high 26 points, 11 of those in the fourth quarter.
“Tonight he put us on his back pretty much and carried us home,” Bulls’ guard Lonzo Ball said.
DeRozan, never one who enjoys talking about his own accomplishments, basically said that role, hitting shots down the stretch when his team requires them, is why he’s in Chicago.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said from his view DeRozan basically took the momentum back by himself.
“He bailed them out because I thought we turned the water off on the other guys,” Nurse said. “He was really, he came in that last run in the fourth and pretty much made all their buckets. I don’t remember any other scorers. I’m sure there were some, maybe, maybe not. But he made some tough ones, and give him credit, he can do that.”
The Raptors, who fell to 1-3 on the year, were led by OG Anunoby with 22 points but the odd line of the night award was easily grabbed by Fred VanVleet, who had a career- high 17 assists on the same night he had a career-high eight turnovers.
The eight turnovers were the bulk of the 21 the Raptors committed on the night, leading to 27 Bulls points.
It’s normally an area where the Raptors excel with all their length, youth and athleticism but on this night they were soundly beaten in that category by a 21-12 count.
Now imagine a future where Ed Rogers has even more influence when it comes to the Leafs, the Raptors, the Blue Jays, the Argos and Toronto FC. This power struggle will basically decide whether Edward runs Rogers alone or not, and a victory would presumably mean his sister Melinda Rogers-Hixon wouldn’t be terribly welcome on the MLSE board of directors, not when there are Rogers flunkies lying around all over the place. (Rogers-Hixon, according to sources, was in favour of retaining Ujiri.) Rogers also owns the Jays and 37.5 per cent of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. When minority owner Larry Tanenbaum divests his shares in the company — and sources indicate it’s coming, possibly within the next five years — MLSE will be split between Bell and Rogers.
And if he wins, Rogers would be the Edward show while Bell would be a more traditionally corporate partner, and reliant on a strong CEO to counterbalance Edward’s whims. And in almost every MLSE decision, Rogers and Bell have to agree for it to go forward.
So Edward’s voice would be stronger still. Edward, of course, called up Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf in 2014 and told him the Jays were looking for a replacement for team president Paul Beeston; Reinsdorf then called Beeston, one of his best friends, to let him know. Edward wanted to let Ujiri walk, while the rest of the MLSE board preferred to keep the most credible sports executive the organization has ever had.
Ed Rogers is already probably the least popular sports ownership figure in Toronto since Harold Ballard. Imagine if he wins the fight for his company.
Let’s go back to the bodyguard accusation for a second. It’s hard to discern whether that was a genuine interpretation or just a clumsy attempted smear, but neither one gives you confidence. We can chortle at the incredible corporate catfight, at the way Edward tries to make his own rules. We can marvel at how Toronto it is that the mayor, longtime Rogers man John Tory, could be in a position to cast a potentially deciding vote to remove Edward from the family’s controlling trust. Old white men with a conservative bent. That’s this city’s status quo, all right.
And then there is the Toronto of Masai Ujiri, of excellence that arrived from abroad. That’s what’s at stake here.
Sports is a small part of the bigger picture in the Rogers fight, but it’s also the city’s connective tissue in a way cellphone loyalty isn’t: Rogers isn’t going to pull a few million people into the streets to celebrate something together.
So, let’s see whether Edward Rogers can pull this off. It wouldn’t be for the best.
Right now, the Raptors can be thankful for those checks and balances. In a thoroughly reported story stemming from the behind-the-scenes drama engulfing Rogers right now, the Toronto Star revealed Edward Rogers, who may or may not be the chairman of the company that bears his name, tried vehemently to fight the new contract given to Ujiri to continue as president and vice chairman of the Raptors this summer, arguing that the executive wasn’t worth the top-of-market deal he was going to get, plus other concessions, including incentives tied to future growth in the franchise’s value. Rogers is one of seven MLSE board members, and one of two representatives from his family’s company. The other is Melinda Rogers-Hixon, one of the family members Edward Rogers is fighting in the battle over the control of that company.
Ultimately, Ujiri stayed thanks to his strong relationship with several members of the MLSE board, including the Bell representatives and Tanenbaum, who, as governor of the team, was able to push the deal through. Rogers appealed to the NBA to consider his side of the negotiations, with the league saying Tanenbaum had the final say on such deals. That was not before Edward Rogers had reportedly called Ujiri to tell him he wasn’t worth the money he was seeking, with Tanenbaum having to assure Ujiri he will be protected from having to deal with Rogers going forward. A representative for Edward Rogers said Rogers was prepared to bring back Ujiri at a high price, although the specifics of the deal were concerning to him.
You can agree or not with Rogers’ assessment of Ujiri. The fact is Ujiri has been and remains one of the most coveted executives in the NBA, built a championship team in a non-glamour market and ignited a fan base as perhaps the face of the franchise. Like anybody else, Ujiri, 51, has warts as a decision-maker, particularly in free agency, but at least three-quarters of the league would love to have him in charge.
This all, of course, comes back to money — not just the money Ujiri is making, but the money Rogers thinks his family should be making. At its heart, the Rogers’ drama is a product of Edward Rogers believing his company should be raking in more money relative to its competitors. You can understand why he would chafe, then, at paying Ujiri what some other professional sports organization surely would. Bell and Rogers are both publicly traded companies and have to disclose their financial situations.
Taken as a whole, it’s evident that even while the various Toronto teams have run relatively smoothly and quietly over a period of years, they haven’t entirely been spared the whims of a rich guy who thinks he knows better. The big question is what happens next. The courts will decide if Ed Rogers is still chairman of the Rogers board, or if he was successfully deposed by a group that includes his mother and two sisters. As it relates to the Rogers sports properties, unless Edward ends up taking his ball and going home, it seems likely he will still have some presence around MLSE and, particularly, the Blue Jays, of which he remains the chairman.
That the story of his clash with Ujiri emerged now suggests that his ability to wreak havoc at MLSE is muted, since the Raptors boss ultimately re-signed, and with vice-chairman added to his title. It is unlikely Masai will be sitting at the Rogers table at staff parties.
Last Week: 20
This Week: 22
2021-22 record: 1-2
If he hadn’t already, rookie Scottie Barnes officially arrived with 25 points and 13 rebounds in Toronto’s blowout win over Boston on Friday. While the Raptors’ roster doesn’t have the high ceiling this season it has been accustomed to in recent years, it does allow Toronto to ensure Barnes gets every possible opportunity to develop. — Bontemps
Last Week: 17
This Week: 22
Toronto Raptors (Previously 17th), 1-2, +2.7 net rating
Weekly Slate: Loss to Wizards, Win at Celtics, Loss to Mavs
First-impression from Week 1: It might be ugly until Pascal Siakam gets back. The Raptors avoided a completely disastrous week with that dominant performance over Boston, but their offense looks like it might be in real trouble until Siakam gets back. The positives are Scottie Barnes looks phenomenal. He might end up being a no-brainer at 4, even when a lot of people (including myself) questioned if Masai Ujiri should’ve taken Jalen Suggs over him. That’s good to see him so comfortable so early. But the rest of this team can’t hit shots. Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Goran Dragic, Gary Trent Jr., Svi Mykhailiuk, and Chris Boucher are all shooting under 40 percent from the field while putting up at least five attempts. It won’t be that bad for long, but they get knocked way down until they stop posting the accuracy of Bob Cousy’s career field goal percentage.
Last Week: 18
This Week: 20
Pace: 100.2 (22) OffRtg: 97.3 (26) DefRtg: 94.7 (6) NetRtg: +2.7 (16)
It’s a new season, they’re no longer in Tampa, and Pascal Siakam isn’t available to attempt any game-winning shots that roll off the rim. (None of their three games were within five points in the last five minutes, actually.) But bless the Raptors for finishing Week 1 with a losing record and a positive point differential, something comfortably familiar for us wonks who monitor such minutiae.
Scottie Barnes has been pretty relentless with his attack. Thirty of his 42 field goal attempts have come in the paint, he’s made 18 of those 30 paint shots and his free throw rate (28.6 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is well above the historically low league average (21.4 per 100). But offense has otherwise been ugly on both ends of the floor. In fact, two of the three least efficient performances of Week 1 were the Raptors against Washington on Wednesday (83 points on 107 possessions) and the Celtics against Toronto on Friday (83 on 101). All five guards in the rotation (and OG Anunoby too) have shot worse than 40%.
Nick Nurse made a lineup change (Goran Dragic out, Gary Trent Jr. in) after Game 1 and the new group has outscored its opponents by 19 points in its 42 minutes. But the bench had a rough night against Dallas on Saturday.
Week 2: vs. CHI, vs. IND, vs. ORL, @ IND