That’s 1…2…345…6(!) games in a row for our 2022 Toronto Raptors. We’re back, baby!
Okay, yes, Toronto’s eked out a couple of games it probably should have dominated the whole enchilada.
And, yes, Toronto’s win streak happens to align with its opposing teams’ best player(s) not actually playing:
LAC: Paul George, Kawhi Leonard
NYK: Julius Randle, Derrick Rose
SAS: Dejounte Murray
UTA: the entire starting 5
NOP: Zion Williamson
Toronto’s basically never been healthy. Had they been, this team’s record would be something more comparable to today anyway. So, this, for those who believe in such universal energies, is karmic justice. We’re due. No shame.
The real question is: is all this winning fool’s gold?
Would Freddy and Pascal’s All-Star-level of playing be enough to win against these teams at full strength?
OBJECTION. Speculation, your Honour.
We’ll never know.
What we do know is that these guys are J-E-L-L-O’in.
Our starting 5 is dominant. They’re 3rd in the league in scoring and +10/100 possessions. No real surprise to any of us watching every millisecond of Rap ball.
FVV’s an All-Star – and Player of the Week;
NBA Players of the Week for Week 12: Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and Raptors guard Fred VanVleet.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 10, 2022
Pascal’s playing like he deserves a trip to Cleveland too.
All that is awesome, but the real promise is the bench’s, or at least part of the bench’s, success of late. Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, and Khem Birch (quazi-bench guy), especially, have found confidence and, most importantly, come to accept their role. Samson Folk talked about their importance in FVV-less lineups and the power of the Funk Fest Quartet (Precious, Boucher, Siakam, and Barnes).
“He kind of knows that’s where his role is right now and he’s accepted it,” coach Nick Nurse said of Boucher before the Pelicans game. That role is to hustle and outwork every single player on the floor. Relentless halfcourt defence; stampeding transition; entrapping helpside; fearless rebounding. We’ve seen all of that from the 3 bigs lately. Boucher, especially, has become the 6th-man jolt that we loved and expected from last year. This was a bit melodramatic, but it is absolutely a symbol of what this team needs from its bench bigs:
— David Mai (@dmai21) January 8, 2022
Chris has toned down the 3-point jacks, turned up the hustle, and, seemingly, double-downed on what Toronto needs from him – FYI, Chris, it’ll get you paid too. Precious has also focussed more on who he is and what Toronto needs from him now and tamped down the whole who-in-2-years-I-think-I’m-gonna-be stuff. Khem just looks to be shaking off a thwack load of rust.
What’s also encouraging, weirdly, has been Scottie’s struggles. With FVV and Pascal dominating usage, Barnes seems to have lost a bit of his mojo, not knowing when or where to choose his spots. OG’s had similar growing pains, but his spot-up shooting and Dolph Lundgren body will always make him an off-ball threat; he’s also got 4 years under his belt. Here are Scottie’s numbers before and after Pascal and Fred’s return (6 games total):
Before: 15.6 points / 3.4 assists / 12.7 field goal attempts / 18.7% usage rate
After: 9.6 points / 4 assists / 9 field goal attempts / 16% usage rate
The difference is totally understandable. Those 2 require mucho reps. Besides, Scottie’s a rookie for Christ Sake’s, cut him some slack. I forget that sometimes. He’s figuring all this I’m really good in a league of extremely good, basketball-playing men. As he becomes accustomed to his role and he and the coaching staff figure out when, where, and how he fits within a two-headed monster offence – I think his minutes as backup point guard with Pascal are a great way to exercise his super-playmaking powers – this team’s ceiling will truly rise. It’s only a matter of time.
With Phoenix coming to town, the Raptors will finally play a full-strength, elite team. Despite injuries and COVID protocols, the Suns kept on shining. DeAndre Ayton missed 6 games recently and Phoenix went 4-2. When Devon Booker missed 7 games earlier this year, the Suns carried on (God, do I find Kendrick Perkins’ schtick repugnant. And as a complete aside, so do NBA players:
Don’t trip king!!! They have to make money somehow remember that 👍🏽💯
— kuz (@kylekuzma) January 9, 2022
That’s exactly the problem with this. Kendrick Rasputined himself into an ESPN job with hot takes and zero indication of insightfulness. YUCK).
Right. Booker. Without him, they still went 5-2. Chris Paul is the constant, obviously. He’s leading the league in assists, 7th in steals, and 2nd only to a less-usage rate player, Draymond Green, in assists-to-turnover ratio.
The Suns are the epitome of order. You want to talk knowing your roles, these guys have each position perfectly filled and defined. Chris is El Commandante, Booker his Number One, and the rest delineates accordingly – our lovely boy, Bismack Biyombo, is the stalwart 3rd centre.
The challenge with Phoenix is the balanced attack. They’re is 8th in offensive rating and 2nd in defensive rating. The only other team in the top 8 for both is Miami (6th and 7th respectively). You just can’t make too many mistakes or get too far in a hole – AHEM, Toronto Raptors first half performances of late. They’ll slowly swallow you whole.
A particular battle of interest will be the mid-range. Phoenix uses it the most in the league and is 2nd only to Brooklyn in accuracy. Chris and Devon are 2nd and 3rd in mid-range frequency for their position and 1st and 11th, respectively, in accuracy. Conversely, Toronto defends it better than most at 8th in the league.
Phoenix uses a lot of pick and roll action to get those two their shots. Toronto’s switchability – one of Barnes, Siakam, OG, even Precious – enables them to keep a quicker, longer body on either of those two menacing guards. The rotations will have to be tight, though: keeping Ayton grounded and the shooters second-guessing. We’ve seen what happens when Toronto gets lazy: corner-3-extravaganza. Phoenix is 25th in 3-point attempts, but 5th in 3-point accuracy and 5th in corner-3 accuracy.
Phoenix will be an excellent test for the surging Raps. They are legitimate title contenders who match up extremely well with the 6’9″ers. They have enough wings to keep Pascal and OG working at both ends, have a long, mobile, and strong big who can survive in P&Rs, an All-Star sniper and attacker, and an All-Time point guard who may be one of the few savvier than FVV.
Scottie – surprise, surprise – might be the one guy Phoenix has no answers for. It will be interesting to see who guards him and if Nurse emphasizes his overbearing size and skill.
Tip-off: 7:30 pm EST | TV: TSN1, TSN3, TSN5, RDS, TSN, BSAZ | Radio: Sportsnet 590
Toronto Raptors Lineups & Injuries
Phoenix Suns Lineups & Injuries
Moneyline: Raps +150; Suns -182
Spread: Suns -4
Adon’s thoughts: This will be 6 in 10 days for the Raps. They looked pretty tired against the Pels. I fear a letdown. I hope a beatdown.
Bet wisely, friends.