Raptors rotation shows best preseason performance in loss

Raptors lose 115-98 to Bulls but there are plenty of good signs.

Sunday’s game against Chicago was the closest example of a walkthrough for the regular season so far. Starters’ playing time approached the 30 minute range, topped by Gary Trent Jr. at 29. Most of the guys fighting for the final spots only saw a snippet of court time, in single digits.

For the most part, things went well before the Bulls reserves took over in the fourth quarter.

Positive Signs galore

It’s been no secret that the Raptors have struggled shooting from three this preseason, at 24 percent overall. The boxscore from this game wasn’t kind either at 8-for-37. However the looks from rotation players looked better.

Fred VanVleet came off a Scottie Barnes screen on a set play for the Raptors first three 15 seconds into the game. A few minutes later, O.G. Anunoby took a handoff from Scottie, drawing three defenders in the paint before finding a wide open Trent for three. GTJ was a perfect 5-5 from the field for 15 first half points. In transition, Barnes quickly passed upcourt to Pascal Siakam, who found a trailing Fred for his second trey of the first quarter.

These are little things that resulted in a 38-27 result for Toronto in the opening quarter.

“Just in general, pretty happy with the way we moved the ball tonight. Didn’t get a lot to show out of it but the ball was moving probably the best it has been in the preseason so that’s a good sign.” Nick Nurse said after the game.

FVV and Anunoby combined to shoot 3-15 from three, but Nurse pointed out their body of work shooting around 38-40 percent over the years. No concern at all.

Thaddeus Young is another guy who will help with ball movement when the games matter.

“He’s certainly going to play a lot more than five-six minutes I’ve been playing him in the preseason. He gets one little stint every game just to keep him oiled up I guess.” Nurse said.

Toronto’s defence was also annoying Chicago early. Everybody who played 10+ minutes got a steal except Juancho Hernangomez. The Raptors forced 16 first half turnovers, resulting in a 57-47 halftime edge. That doesn’t include Anunoby stifling all-star Zach LaVine, who turned it over five times.

Dalano Banton: Rotation Player?

Banton’s consistency has been evident all preseason, documented by Louis last week. He is averaging 10.5 points in the preseason and has firmly placed himself in the conversation to be in the rotation as a change of pace guard.

Dalano credits a wide range of offseason reps for his increased comfort on the court, ranging from summer league, the teams runs with Rico Hines, and his play at FIBA AmeriCup in Brazil.

“Just to play against different competition, guys being a lot more aggressive, getting away with a lot more fouling and stuff,” Banton said about playing in FIBA. “They are very physical in Brazil, they foul a lot. Definitely toughens up your game, toughens up your handle a lot down the line playing against those guys who play hard every possession.”

This was sweet from Banton to open the fourth quarter.

Along with Banton’s offensive improvement running the team, Nurse also credited Banton for using his length and getting deflections from the weakside.

Fred is a hard guy to impress, but he’s also taken notice.

“It’s gonna be hard for a 6-9 guy to not have success in the NBA just with the size and lanes that are available to him, being able to finish around the rim. He’s getting more comfortable with the jumpshot. Looks like a guy that is taking that step and ready to crack the rotation.” VanVleet said.

Fred VanVleet’s new approach

Speaking of Fred, he has played the least amongst the starters this preseason. FVV only saw 10 minutes against the Jazz in Edmonton and rested in Houston. This is coming off leading the NBA in minutes per game last season along with Siakam at 38. Fred talked after the game about having a new body and testing the wheels out with the emphasis on peaking in April-June.

“It’s a different approach. I can’t really grade it or say where I’m at other than it’s a work in progress and I feel good.” VanVleet said.

What’s the difference compared to last year? Fred isn’t divulging that information yet. However considering how VanVleet’s numbers tailed off after being hurt in the second half of the season, its good to know there will be a different philosophy. He’s looked like his old pesky self on defence, with a game-high five steals vs the Bulls.

Sidenotes

DeMar DeRozan returns to Toronto are always fun. He finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He’s also playing the passing lanes more this preseason, finishing with three steals.

From a vibes perspective, Toronto is still all love for DeMar.

Andre Drummond has had an interesting career turn over the last few years, going from a 15 point, 15 rebound guy and a two time all-star to someone who has bounced around and struggled to crack some rotations.

He’s shot 15-114 from three over his first 10 seasons in the league. Drummond made three shots on Sunday. ALL of them were threes.

Every season we see a big who never really ventured outside the arc start firing threes. The Raptors know this with Luis Scola in 2015-16, who had made 10 threes in his previous eight seasons before hitting 65 at a 40 percent clip in Toronto. Is Drummond the next big man sniper?

What’s Next?

Montreal wraps up the Raptors preseason tour in Canada on Friday. Hello Celtics again.

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