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10 things I dig and don’t dig about the Toronto Raptors

We're 15 games into the season, now. There's a lot to talk about like the WNBA in Toronto, Barnes-&-Banton vision, Self-Flynnterest, and more.

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Art by the fantastic, Alex Tansley. Check him on IG/Tansley24.

We’re nearly 1/5th of the season in and, already, my balding’s gone from a pattern to a moonscape thanks to these tumultuous Toronto Raptors games.

In rehabilitation, hear me out on some things I dig and don’t dig thus far.

     1. Growing WNBA-TO Fervour

I am sooooo here for the bring-a-WNBA-franchise-to-Canada hype.

Natalie Achonwa demands it.

In an ESPN interview, WNBA Commissioner, Cathy Engelbert, hints at it.

Nick (also Team Canada Mens’ head coach) is down for it.

Drake wants – oh, sorry, needs – it (not that it matters).

Drake asks the WNBA for a team in Toronto

(Unless he “puts his money where his mouth is”; then it matters).

https://twitter.com/timandfriends/status/1458958294291296260?s=20

(Walk the walk, buster).

And, Canada needs it.

Basketball is hot in this country. We’re globally renown: the National Canadian Women’s and Men’s teams are ranked 4th and 18th, respectively; the National Junior Boys’ program is 2nd and Girls’ program, 4th. And we have an all-time high 23 Canadians in the NBA and 3 in the WNBA (HENCE OUR NEED FOR A FRANCHISE…hullloooo) with scores of Canadians amongst the NCAA ranks.

To be clear, the impetus for a franchise is not an equity thing. Yes, the lack of attention to and pay-differential in women’s sports is a major problem in a deeply-entrenched patriarchal society. And, yes, children need to see female athletes anointed, paid, and celebrated in the same way men are. But the call for a Canadian team is strictly business.

The WNBA has grown every year in audience. According to ESPN Viewership, pairs of eyes went up 24% from 2019 to 2020 and 49% from 2020 to 2021 (306,000 per game). (The NBA averaged 1.3 million in the 2020-2021 regular season for perspective). Similar growth occurred during the WNBA Playoffs. We’ve already seen how the MLS capitalized on a sport growing in popularity in Canada.

Star power in the WNBA is also at its pinnacle. Each team chalk-full of household names and dazzling talent. All of that screams expansion.

We always need more basketball in our lives. There’s money to be made in the Toronto and Vancouver markets. This is a no-brainer. Besides, I already have us a name.

“Toronto Pterodactyls” is a sultry alliteration.

Which, of course, means, our site will have to undergo a name change too: Dinosaur Democracy checks out.

     2.  Too Many Minutes

Never good when a team is 7-8.

Never good when a team’s sub-500 and its two best players average the most minutes in the league.

FVV and OG are 1 and 2 in the category. Scottie is 15th and Gary, 30th.

But what choice do they have. Prior to Pascal Siakam’s return, these four were holding the fort at both ends of the floor.

Without them, the Raps are besieged. The foursome accounts for 75 of the team’s 106 points and have a +3.7 net rating collectively. Any advanced metric with at least 3 of the 4 of them on the floor is positive.

It’s not just their minutes, either. FVV and OG don’t play like a LeBron in his latter years – visibly conserving energy on the floor. They’re the top 2 in total distance traveled leading by a 2000-foot margin. FVV travels the most offensively; OG, the most defensively.

You’d think Pascal would lighten their burden. He hasn’t really. OG and FVV are still top 5 in minutes since his return; though, their distance traveled, especially at the offensive end, has lessened.

It’s a classic Millennial dilemma: YOLO short-term or mutual funds long-term.

This team strugggggles to score. I shudder at the thought of resting anyone (without Fred, the Raps gave up a season-high 127 points to the DETROIT FRIGGIN’ PISTONS!!!). The bench scores a league-worst 24 points a game.

Burn-out’s also very real and a common precursor to injury; this volume’s unsustainable and could plague them when those final stretch games really matter.

     3. Sneaky Svi

Svi Mychailiuk’s one of them pure scorer types. He’s got a quick-trigger three and a penchant for rim strikes.

It’s his craftiness without the ball, at both ends of the court, that I love most. He, like Gary Trent Jr., plays excellent positional basketball. Svi is always moving: cutting, filling voids, and finding open spaces to spot-up. It’s an underrated skill and invaluable to a team thirsting for anything easy in the half-court.

His sneakiness is the best part to watch. Svi waits – at both ends of the floor – for his opponents’ momentary lapses of concentration. He’s watching everyone: his man, helpside, his teammates with and without the ball, and skulks in waiting.

The timing has to be right. Heads turned a certain way, ball and man moving a particular direction. Too early, and the pass isn’t there, defence recovers. Too late, plays over and he’s causing a crowd. Just right: zhoop lay-up.

Same on defence. Intercepting passes is the ultimate convergence of anticipation and subterfuge. You have to appear non-threatening while remaining vigilant for that singularly perfect moment to snatch it.

     4. Kickass Raptors 905ers

The Raptors 905 season has commenced. They’re a pristine 2-0: a thumping and then a last-minute escape both against the Westchester Knicks.

Most notably, in accordance with our Raptorcentric egoism, were Dalano Banton, David Johnson, and Isaac Bonga.

Dalano shouldn’t be much of a surprise. He’s already contributing at the NBA level. The G-League, though, similar to Summer League, gives players – and the teams observing them – the opportunity to perform as the guy.

In his 905 debut, Banton was all alpha-doggy-dogg. Total dominance. His size, speed, length, and finish overwhelmed Westchester – despite, I’m sure, the entire team knowing full-well what he planned to do.

All but one score was outside of the paint. He parsed defensive units like a Hadron Collider plunking in layups at ease. He also dished 9 assists with checks stats sheet again…7 turnovers. An anticipated by-product of a hyper-aggressive, risk-defying, battery-less mechanical stallion with a sudden increase in usage (36%).

The NBA does not have the same open-door policy. We know Dalano’s not going to get to the rim so easily. It’s good to know that he’s not slowed by lesser competition, nonetheless. With the G-League, he can continue to hone his skillset and decision-making, improving his jumper (he was 1/3 from three; 0/3 from beyond 4ish feet) and limiting the turnovers (see below).

Isaac Bonga’s excellence over two games, too, should be less shockworthy. He’s only 22, but it’s his 4th year in the league. In 2018/19, he averaged 12 points/7 boards/3 assists in the G-League. It ain’t his first rodeo.

Same thing applies. We want to see if Isaac can impose his will upon the game. He’s stuck around on this roster because (A) his body and skillset fits the exact prototype of the Raptors’ vision and (B) he is an autonomous playmaking unit – unlike Dekker or Ish, who were roleplayers with singular purposes.

In his first two games with the 905, Bonga’s averaged 24/8/3 and 2.5 stocks on 80% effective field goals and 58% 3-point shooting (7 attempts/game).

Like Banton, he’s operated as a primary playmaker (21% usage) pushing the pace, attacking relentlessly, and using his length and height to finish in traffic. He also had a 1:1 assist to TO ratio, which, again, is common for a bigger playmaker with higher usage who’s not as accustomed to meeting a defence at its focal point. The few assists he did complete, though, were top, including a well-timed lob and a dribble-into-a-cross-court-one-handed pass.

The difference from Banton is Isaac’s shooting. If he can maintain that kind of a clip, and show consistent defence, Bonga’s going to be a Raptor for a good while.

David Johnson is the pleasant surprise of the 3. He was unnoticeable in Summer League, which is not surprising for a late second-rounder at the bottom of the “let’s see what you got” list. With the 905, he’s showing something.

In 33 minutes a game, Johnson’s averaged 18/4/6 with 3 stocks. He looked confident as a playmaker, executing passes without hesitation and finding “extra-level” targets (like the pass to Bonga at the 25 second mark and the no-looker to Banton at 42 seconds). He also showed some work out of the pick and roll utilizing his bum (big fan of bum work) to seal off the defender and a nice mid-range floater.

If it weren’t for his abhorrent 3/14 from 3-point, DJ’s field goal percentage would be astronomical. Good signs! His inability to hit from afar is what dropped him to the 2nd round in the first place. If you sense a trend here (good player/bad form), then you know DJ’s on the right path forward.

     5. Raptors Republic’s New Kickass G-League Podcast

If you want to hear more [and better] insight on the 905 go check out my colleagues’, Kelsea O’Brien and Duane Notice’s new podcast, Westside Stories: A G-League podcast – produced by Zarar Siddiqi.

First episode’s already in the archives(?), library(?), music…box…?

I dunno, just go have a listen.

     6. Live Mic

Speaking of Audio/Video, I’ve been on a bit of a scored earth rampage with how bad the local announcing crews can be (sorry, Alvin, but…nevermind) across the league.

I was struck with a solution watching the Raptors play the Pacers several games back. Not sure how or why – I’d guess the Raps broadcast was too close to the bench – but throughout the game you could hear the bench talking loud and clear.

It’s what you’d expect:

“Travel!” the bench yelled at the refs.

“Helpside!” the coaching staff reminded Boucher (no surprise there 👍) .

https://twitter.com/chrisboucher/status/1455420337060032514?s=20

Listen carefully, below. You can hear Pascal exclaim, “Goddamn…Big Dogg (?)” after Svi’s fastbreak cram.

Just imagine what else we could get.

This is the answer to all our problems. I’ll listen to some analysis … if it’s good. But I’d rather absorb the chatter.

I want to hear the coaches holler in-game alterations. I want to hear what benches say every time a corner three goes in and the guy shooting it looks back in contempt. I want to hear the collective celebrations, the individual frustrations, the scheming, the inspirations, the trash talk, and everything else that these guys have to say.

Shit, they already incept our lives outside of basketball: dumb Instagram posts, disgruntled Twitter replies (poor, Sahal), and six seasons (!!!???) of reality TV.

Why not share what they’ve got to say about basketball?

Beats having old Johnny McMiserable on the horn reminiscing about how foul callin’ ain’t like it used to be back when players could body slam one another and then go have a smoke and a steak at halftime.

     7. Even When It’s Wrong, It’s Alright

I love our rookies. We all love our rookies.

(If you don’t love our rookies, you’re dead to me).

There’s no need to explain why. Scottie Barnes and Dalano Banton’s immediate growth and success is astonishing and unforeseen by basically everyone except the Toronto Raptors organization.

You expect rookies to make mistakes. To not only miss the right decision, but to opt for the bad one. That’s typically a consequence of speed and being overwhelmed by the overall size and athleticism of the NBA. It’s why some players take 3-4 years to blossom.

It’s also what makes Scottie and Dalano so unique. Even their mistakes – they average 2.3 and 3 turnovers per 36 minutes, respectively, 6th and 7th among rookies – are high-level.

Many are the ordinary, silly rookie turnovers: barrelling into charges, traveling, misreading a play, or getting caught in the air heaving a hopeless pass.

Others are more advanced. Scottie and Dalano share an oracular vision, seeing plays formulate ahead of schedule. The subsequent turnovers arise from where they anticipated their targets to eventually be, but never arrived.

They do do it differently, the two of them. Banton’s brash and unafraid to put himself – and the defence – in uncomfortable situations. His speed and surprising probes make up for his poor jumper. His sophistication is in seeing and choosing when to take advantage of a compromised defender. His mistakes come from overcomplicating the act. You’ll that especially so in the first and third clips below, where a floater would have been the proper decision:

Barnes is less daunting, more methodical. Plays unravel and he awaits the optimum point of exchange. Problems arise with delivery or the receivers’ preparedness.

These are good problems to have. Patience is easier to acquire than perception. When they and their targets do connect, Barnes and Banton look well beyond their years as creators.

     8. Adalanovanced Stats Banton

This is starting to become a Dalano Banton article (check Mat Issa’s actual Banton article). Hard not to write about him when he’s dashing down the court like Hermes.

Let this soak in.

Of rookies who average at least ten minutes a game and played at least ten games this season, Dalano Banton, per 36 minutes, isssss:

1st in effective field goal percentage

1st in true shooting percentage

4th in player efficiency rating (not sure why ESPN has 2nd-year guys as “rookies” )

4th in offensive rating

6th in Player Impact Estimate

6th in assist percentage

6th in rebounding percentage

7th in net rating

8th in offensive rebounding percentage

8th in total RAPTOR

12th in usage

 

Shucks, Masai, you gone an’ dunnit again.

     9. Basketball’s a Metaphor

Sometimes, in basketball, a play says a thousand words. You tell me what you see:

https://twitter.com/Raptors/status/1460471874433990660?s=20

I’ll tell you what I see: 10th man, Malachi Flynn, with the final seconds melting away in the 3rd quarter insisting (twice) that leading scorer, OG Anunoby, throw a screen his way. OG obliges. Flynn proceeds to ignore the semi-open OG rolling and calling for the ball. Flynn moves on, rejecting a subsequent Birch screen. He drives, fails to see [read: ignores] an even more wide-open OG, again, calling for the ball, and snakes a fine finish at the buzzer.

Consequentialist interpretation: 2 points. No problem.

Moralist interpretation: Flynn’s self-righteous and rejects all that is the Toronto Raptors. Problem.

Of course, I infer much more for the drama. OG probably thought nothing of it. The two of them probably had a giggle after OG skunked him in a round of cribbage on the flight to Utah. Flynn’s probably in love with the new Raptor strategy and, happily, awaiting his few opportunities to get more reps.

Or the only thing he’s thinking about that entire sequence – 24/7, for that matter – is…fuck’em all.

     10. More Barnes Back to the Basket, Please

He posts up once a game. Scottie does.

Small sample size, to say the least, but, so far, he scores 1 point per possession there. That’s upper league echelon.

I want more. The Raptors need more.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. More.

Scottie gives coaches cause for an Ativan prescription. Guards are too small and bigs too slow. He has the court vision of a top-passing guard and tremendous finish in, around, and over (we all saw what he did to Domatas Sabonis) the rim too.

He also already makes chop liver outta the short corner. As a Raptor drives, Scottie gravitates towards the rim for a dump pass or a rebound. Over and over, again, he’s milked it.

 

(That’s just one game).

It all beggggsss for more post play. You see how easy it is for him already.

 

I don’t know if you want to call all of these post-ups – Barnes seems to thrive off a little momentum. But you get the point. He’s wholly unpolished and still devouring. Wait till the doubles come and his passing comes to power.

And, friends, dear friends, imagine, just for a moment, if you will, a Barnes who hits fadeaways, like he did against James Harden in that last clip, on the regular…gooooood night, see-ya-later, hullo momma, hullo daddy, here comes the big money, we’re going off to the Big Show.

I imagine dumping it down to him with a winding shot clock, a simple drop-step baby-hook after a couple of hard dribbles into the defenders belly. Nada más. Even if he doesn’t get the ball, he’s in prime position for offensive glass poundage.

I understand the hesitation. Birch and Achiuwa are the bigs. Things could get crowded.

Maybe…just maybe…this leads to a conversation of Barnes coming off the bench. I feel sick have typed those words, I gotta go lie down.

Reminder: bench stinkkkkksss. Insert Barnes and Flynn/Banton, run some P&R, as I encouraged last week, and then start hammering it down low with Scottie.

Worst case scenario, Boucher’s opposite corner waiting to fling…bad example…👍.

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