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Raptors Youth Roll Grizzlies

The young Toronto Raptors core displayed a potential fans knew existed, but had yet to witness in full.

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Photo via NBA.com (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

We [I] tend to forget just how young these Dinos truly are.

I certainly look past the fact that we have one of the youngest and least experienced rosters in the NBA [look at the bottom of the chart; that’s including Goran Dragić’s minutes played, which shouldn’t count].

I mean it doesn’t feel like they’re a bunch of yutes.

I feel like I practically grew up with Pascal, Freddy V, and OG, who are each only entering or nearing their primes. Gary Trent Jr. carries himself like he hit big with some dot.com stocks and has been running the bar, Gary’s, somewhere in Tulum for the last decade. Khem came out of the womb a solemn vet. Even Svi has the grim look of a man who’s seen too much. Scottie’s the body of a demi-god, so he’s immortal.

I expect a lot from everyone. And, maybe that’s unfair.

When they make their mistakes. And boyyy do they make their mistakes. I’m upset by it; I don’t think they should have happened; so, I’m upset by it. Disappointed even. Were I to think of this team as I do Houston or Oklahoma City, I would be more forgiving. But I’m not.

Maybe I should be. I’m not.

I admit, though, that I get lost in the game-by-game minutia, forgetting the big picture about players’ long-term growth over the course of a season or over many years. There’s a long way to go still, no matter how impatient I am.

Last night, in Memphis I was, gleefully, reminded of their youth and their big-picture potential. Though, it took a bit of a while to get there.

In the first quarter, you could, once again, take your pick of defensive miscues: lack of focus (I think Memphis had three backdoors in the first quarter alone), poor rotations, failed boxouts (it was 16-5 in rebounds), and wayyyy too much lane penetration (11 of the Grizz’ 13 made field goals were within about 8 feet).

It seemed to be scheme as much as it was effort – or lack thereof. Fred had the unenviable task of staying in front of blooming All-Star and freaky-freak athlete, Ja Morant, just as he did with Steph in Golden State. Against the Warriors, though, the Raptors decidedly removed Steph from the equation: Fred would climb into Steph’s shorts and when Steph, inevitably, got by, multiple Raptors would cut him off, forcing other Warriors to do the scoring. They did.

Against, Memphis, Nurse elected to let Fred and whichever Raptor was involved in the pick & roll survive on their lonesome. That didn’t work either. Fred played in the same aggressive fashion, but without the second or third order of defenders to slow Ja down. Instead, Ja was given free roam, slinking his way into the paint for 14 points and 6 assists in the half.

In the second quarter, despite another shite 12 mins of defence, Toronto’s youth emerged.

First, it was Scottie. He had had a tough first quarter. He, effectively, had 3 turnovers clumsily throwing away the ball out of a double team, running headlong into the Spaghetti Man, Jaren Jackson Jr., for a poke-away, and launching an early three that converted into a fastbreak lay-up for Memphis.

But a first-quarter buzzer-beater seemed to break him out of the same apathetic spell that once plagued Théoden.

He was back to running up and down the court like Scottie of old, cramming and yelling, and flexing, and scoring with the confidence we’re used to. He hit a long-two camouflaged as a three and did a little dosey-doe backdown baby hook over Brandon Clarke.

On the defensive side, the lone glimmer of success in the quarter, was Yuta Watanabe. We all talked of the wonders Yuta would do for the Raptors upon his return. We held mild expectations in his season debut. Fools we are. Within 6 minutes of his season debut, Yuta earned DPOY with 2 steals, a block, and several deflections. He was the opposite of slow; he saw plays transpiring in 2x speed doubling posts and interceding drives just as they were unfolding.

In the third quarter, it was Precious Achuiwa’s turn to flout his game. He scored all 17 of his total points in the period and shot 3/3 from three. Precious has struggled to strike a balance of confidence and wisdom this season. Early on, he was too insistent, forcing plays and taking early, contested shots. As he struggled, Precious looked lethargic and defeated; it reflected in his lack of defensive energy.

In the last several games, though, including against Memphis, Precious looks to have found that equilibrium. Early in the game, Precious swung the ball swiftly, not even a moment’s consideration of hoisting. When the opportunities did arise, they were within the flow of the game and he took advantage of them purposefully.

In the fourth, Gary pitched his own 17 points and 3/3 from the arc. Gary’s microwavibility is not all that surprising. He’s been radioactive pretty much all season. His 4 assists in the game were a pleasant surprise; he’s not known for looking at his teammates once he’s with ball.

And while all of this was going on, Freddy and Pascal were quietly doing their thing, like they always do. Fred hit another clutch pull-up 3 late in the 4th and ended up with a quiet 23 points and 7 assists and playing primo defence along the way recording another 2 blocks and 2 steals. No biggie.

Pascal played a more deferential role, taking only 12 shots in the game, but getting to the free-throw line a team-high 8 times. He, too, is passing the ball more freely, making extra passes to open teammates rather than keeping it for himself like he’s known to do.

Ultimately, though, this game was about Toronto’s noobs.

Yuta (27), Precious (22), Gary (22), Dalano – who is consistently catalyzing the Raptors when they need it most – (22),  and Scottie (20) all showed the potential of this team as they individually continue to flourish and become the players they’ve shown they can be.

Other Thoughts:

  • You didn’t think I’d forget about Yuta’s liposuction of Dillon Brooks obese ego, did you?

  • Buh Bye, Boucher. He didn’t play a single minute of the 2nd half. Maybe, it was because Precious was hotter than a tin of fresh-baked muffins or maybe it was because Chris opted out of his civic duty as a team defender?
  • Those stupid-ass GO DADDY ads have to go; the neon green was killing me.
  • FVV was a 4/4 in the restrict area tonight – including a left-handed shot put in traffic.
  • Nick’s confidence in Malachi Flynn is back. He logged over 11 minutes and scored 6 points on 75% shooting and had 4 assists. There’s definitely going to be spots for Malachi this year, especially, when the Raptors’ O is languishing.
  • When OG gets back, Team Spiderman will be deployed and the New Age of Wingmania will be upon us all.

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