It is clear Barnes went to work after his rookie of the year campaign, and it is, by and large, showing early in his sophomore year. Barnes had 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds Monday in the Raptors’ comfortable 139-109 win over Atlanta, with his playmaking making up for the absence of Fred VanVleet, who missed the game with a stiff lower back. Barnes also had a large chunk of the defensive assignment against Atlanta’s Trae Young, who missed 10 of his 13 field goals and turned the ball over 10 times.
On Friday against Philadelphia, Barnes took just seven field goal attempts — bewildering since the 76ers were playing without Joel Embiid to clog the lane. Barnes felt like an offensive afterthought, which is how things felt last year at points, too. It is why Raptors coach Nick Nurse pushed Barnes to shoot as often as possible last year: Barnes is too skilled to be a background character for the offensively challenged Raptors.
“The biggest thing for me with him … is you (have) got to go to the basket,” Nurse said before the game. “He hasn’t been (there) enough this year. I don’t know what the numbers say … but my sense is he’s not taking it down there and using his physical size and strength to punish people at the rim. His shooting looks better. But we need that in the rhythm of the offence. We need him to be the offence at times, either scoring or kicking it out.”
If it has felt like Barnes hasn’t been putting more pressure on the paint, it’s likely because there was an expectation he would make huge leaps this year. In fact, Monday’s game was Barnes’ most perimeter-based performance of the year, with 9 of his 14 field goal attempts coming from deep, connecting on a career-best five. It was not really indicative of what he’s been doing this season.
In his five games leading into playing the Hawks, he was shooting more often, without a huge uptick in 3-point attempts. Almost 33 percent of his field goal attempts were at the rim, up from 27.5 percent last year. He has taken a smaller percentage of his shots inside the paint but outside the restricted area than last year, but not enough that it has radically flipped his shot chart. He has been less successful in grabbing offensive rebounds than he was last year, which leads to fewer high-percentage put-back attempts, but that is a teamwide problem. His usage has ticked up a few percentage points, going from below average to above it, even as Pascal Siakam’s hot start has dictated he take a bigger part of the pie, too. He is behind only Siakam and Gary Trent Jr. on the team in usage percentage.
Barnes’ passing intuition is off the charts. In the second quarter, without Siakam on the floor, he ignited the attack, finding Christian Koloko twice — once in the pick-and-roll for a dunk, another time with a quick pass off a savvy cut to set up a pair of free throws. Barnes also threw a two-handed home run pass, and though it wasn’t perfect, it was a good risk to take given that Siakam was being guarded by the much smaller Justin Holiday.
Impressively, after Barnes’ flurry of 3s, he knifed into the lane. When the extra help came, he threw a quick pass to Siakam for a layup. That is what Nurse wants to see more often. Very clearly, Barnes needs less and less time to process what is being thrown at him.
“I thought he made a variety of passes,” Nurse said. “He made some strongside zip outs that, just getting off it quick and guys were ready. He hits the roller some for those guys to get some at-the-rim action. He had some weakside kickouts, as well. When you’re playing the screen-and-roll, (the question is) can you find the four guys? You never know what presents itself. Having vision to hit every part of the screen-and-roll is ideally what you’re after.”
Two nights removed from turning in their most desultory performance of the season the Raptors turned in one of their best with a 139-109 dismantling of the Hawks, who came to Scotiabank Arena at 4-2 and seemingly energized by the off-season trade that brought All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to Atlanta from San Antonio.
Instead, it’s the Raptors who can take some satisfaction from a 4-3 start against some of the best competition in the Eastern Conference has to offer before heading to Texas for games against Dallas and San Antonio later this week.
Defensively, the Raptors got it done. In Murray and Trae Young, the Hawks have one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA. Blink and you’ll miss them.
It wasn’t one of the easier teams against which Barnes could make his 2022-23 point guard debut.
“He was great on defence. He really set the tone picking up and working on Young and he was into the game,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “He was pushing, he was dancing the ball, throwing ahead for transition buckets, really got us going in transition offence, but his defence was outstanding tonight.”
The Raptors were successful in turning Young — who was averaging 31.5 points a game coming in — into a distributor, primarily. Young finished with just 14 points on 3-of-13 shooting and while he did rack up 10 assists, he made 10 turnovers too as the Raptors hounded him with multiple defenders at every turn. Murray had a strong game, with 20 points and nine assists, but he had four turnovers too.
Meanwhile, the Raptors got their strong point guard play wherever they needed it.
The Raptors took control of the game early in the fourth quarter with Barnes on the bench and Pascal Siakam running the offence. He proved too big, too smart and too shifty for anything the Hawks could draw up on his way to another outstanding game in an uninterrupted string of them as he put up 16 of his 31 points and four of his six assists in the second half. No wonder he was hearing “MVP” chants at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
When Barnes checked back in, he created problems again, as he drew two defenders in a pick-and-roll action with Koloko and reached up to his full height to deliver a pass to the centre — in the rookie’s wheelhouse this time — that ended up as a dunk, as the centre finished with career highs of eight points and three blocks.
“When the defence commits, when they help off [their man] or try to hedge [the screen], I feel like the roll’s open,” Barnes explained. “.Christian sets great screens and rolls, or whoever’s setting a great screen and roll, I’m able to get over the defence, I’m able to hit the roller for easy dunks, so, I feel like when the defence commits, you just take what the defence gives you.”
The Hawks understood heading into Monday’s matchup that they would face a Raptors team with lots of length. They seemed unprepared for it, though.
The Hawks gave up 14 points off 10 turnovers in the first half to Toronto, which ranks second in the NBA in steals. Atlanta trailed by 11 at halftime.
When the Hawks tried to attack the paint, the Raptors picked their pockets in the lane. The Hawks also had trouble pushing the ball in transition because the Raptors were in position to tip the ball away.
The Raptors average 17.7 deflections per game and 9.5 steals per game. During pregame media availability, Hawks coach Nate McMillan said the main thing his team needed to do was take care of the ball.
“With our turnovers, I thought they played with more urgency, more scrap than we did tonight,” McMillan said. “And it was that way pretty much for 48 minutes. When you’re supposed to be getting stronger, we give up a 44-point fourth quarter, 43 fast-break points. Just not taking care of the ball, playing loose with the basketball, and a team like this will pounce on you as they do.”
Through the second half of the first quarter, the Hawks lost their footing as turnovers piled up, which led the Raptors to get fast break opportunities. The Raptors were also starting to get comfortable on offense, extending their lead against the Hawks.
Though Trae Young had seven assists in the quarter, he was the reason for most of the Hawks’ turnovers with four.
The Hawks second unit, plus Murray, battled back in the second quarter and tied the game. Jalen Johnson also had a few nice plays to help keep the Hawks close, which was a welcoming sign for many.
Once the starters came back in for the Raptors, they began to pull away from the Hawks again as they created more turnovers and high-quality shots. The Hawks were not able to find a groove on offense due to the Raptors defense. At one point during the second quarter, the Raptors went on an 11-0 and, by halftime they were leading 64-53.
Things started to look better for the Hawks to start the second half as they began to get into a groove on offense. Unfortunately, the Raptors kept answering with shots of their own.
After a slow start in the first half, De’Andre Hunter came alive with a slew of threes to keep the Hawks close.
Just like towards the end of the first half, the Hawks couldn’t find much offense, which led the Raptors to extend their lead. The Hawks found themselves down 95-80 to end the third.
The fourth quarter wasn’t any better for the Hawks, as the Raptors continued to pile on the points.
Trae Young followed his best game of the season up with an uncharacteristically off night. Young shot 23% from the field and turned the ball over ten times (a career-high in regular season games). The Raptors took a page out of the Miami Heat playbook and loaded up defensively to make Young’s Halloween a nightmare.
The Raptors were even better on the offensive end of the floor. Despite playing at the second-slowest pace in the league, they outscored the Hawks 43-10 in fast break points. However, as our friend Brad Rowland of Locked on Hawks pointed out, they entered tonight with the second-most fast break points.
Scottie Barnes was excellent, knocking down five three-pointers and finishing with 21 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Pascal Siakam continued his reign over the Hawks, scoring 31 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Thanks to the Raptors’ dominating style, the game was essentially over by the start of the fourth quarter.
One cause for concern is Onyeka Okongwu. The Hawks’ backup center got tangled up driving to the rim and immediately grabbed his left shoulder. Okongwu exited the game and did not return.
On Wednesday night, the Hawks wrap up their five-game road trip by visiting their friends, the New York Knicks. Stick with AllHawks.com for news, highlights, and analysis.
Barnes was arguably Toronto’s best player tonight, finishing with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists of 50% shooting. The other player in contention for that award, is a familiar face, Pascal Siakam.
Siakam finished with his second 30 point outing on the young season, and his fourth double-double, ending the game with 31 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. Another great showing for the all star.
One all star who didn’t put up a great showing, was Atlanta Hawks point guard, Trae Young. Young, a prolific offensive player has typically found ways to put up productive and efficient nights ever since his dreadful summer league performance.
However, the man with no All-Defense awards to his name, but a guy who you have to think will finish his career with at least one, OG Anunoby had something to say about that! Young shot 3/13 from the field and finished with as many assists as he did turnovers. And yes, that number was in the double digits; 10! A solid triple double performance for Young with 14 points, 10 assists and 10 turnovers.
Anunoby almost matched Young’s turnover total in steals, finishing the game with 6, and a lot more great defensive efforts to pair with it.
Atlanta’s game plan early on was obvious, attack Christian Koloko. With VanVleet sitting out tonight, Nurse decided to go big and give Koloko his second start of his young career. The rookie looked overmatched at the start, but began to showcase some of those skills that make him such a potential-filled prospect.
Koloko finished with 3 blocks, and 9 points. Most of which, came off some beautiful pick and roll actions.
Malachi Flynn is another player I want to point out. If you didn’t watch the game, and just checked the box score, you would probably wonder why. No, he didn’t have a great game, but as the first guard off the bench, Flynn’s short time on the court pointed in a positive direction.
Flynn looked smooth operating as the pick and roll ball handler, and also in isolation situations. He was able to get into the paint for some difficult, yet silky layups. He only shot 1/3 on them, but it was a positive sight to see a Toronto guard not named Fred VanVleet, create high level offense.
The big concern was that the Raptors — minus top backcourt defender Fred VanVleet — would have a hard time keeping up with the speedy, athletic Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
Playing their best overall game of the season and racking up a season-high 43 fast-break points, the Raptors throttled the Hawks 139-109 behind an almost perfectly balanced offence at Scotiabank Arena.
VanVleet missed the game with lower back stiffness that first started bothering him Friday, coach Nick Nurse said. The veteran guard did not go through the team’s Sunday practice. He’ll be listed as day-to-day.
And it appears rookie Christian Koloko is the designated fill-in for any missing starter.
“He’s our first centre. When something opens up in the starting lineup, he’s probably gonna be starting most of the time,” the coach said.
Koloko held his own, but it was the quartet of Pascal Siakam (31 points, 12 rebounds), Gary Trent Jr. (21 points), Scottie Barnes (21 points, including three first-quarter three-pointers, plus seven rebounds and eight assists) and O.G. Anunoby (his best defensive game of the season) who did the heavy lifting.
The Raptors forced 17 Hawks turnovers and harassed all-star guard Trae Young into making 10 of them.
This time around, when VanVleet’s lower back began flaring up over the weekend, Toronto thought better of letting him out there against Young, Dejounte Murray, and the new-look Atlanta Hawks. No, the Raptors hadn’t added some stout defensive guard off the bench to backup VanVleet, but maybe their size could slow a couple of the league’s most dynamic guards?
A 139-109 victory over the Hawks showed this year’s Raptors have a plan for guards like Young. This time, without an ailing VanVleet, Young mustered just 14 points on 3-for-13 shooting with a career-high 10 turnovers.
Toronto confounded Young with multiple bodies and some hardcore face-guarding from Scottie Barnes who stepped into the point guard role for the Raptors. At one point in the first quarter, Young shook loose of Barnes only to find the 6-foot-9 Precious Achiuwa lurking on the other side of the switch. When Young tried to move the ball, Barnes picked it off, leading the charge the other way before finding Achiuwa with a no-look pass for a transition dunk.
“When we did have to switch, it was someone pretty long on him as well. And again, I just thought we challenged especially when he was running around looking for someone to pass to,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We made a lot of his passes difficult.”
It was the story of the night for Young who never seemed to find enough room to get his shot off and was forced to move the ball, often into troublesome spots. His 10 turnovers led directly to 12 of Toronto’s 24 points off turnovers and allowed the Raptors to find a groove running the fastbreak.
On the other end, the Raptors’ size allowed them to pound the paint. They took it inside with Pascal Siakam who set the tone in the third quarter by getting to the line over and over again. When Toronto found itself in the bonus midway through the frame, Atlanta was in trouble. A 13-0 run allowed the Raptors to open up a 17-point lead in the frame and climb up by 20 early in the fourth.
The Hawks, meanwhile, never could slow Siakam who got to the line 16 times, racking up 31 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists before checking out midway through the fourth.
14. Toronto Raptors (previously 15th) | 3-3 | -1.6 net rating
Weekly slate: Win at Heat, Win over Sixers, Loss to Sixers
Cause for optimism: Chris Boucher is back to give the Toronto Raptors some more versatility and options. Asking Christian Koloko to be a contributor right away isn’t setting him up for success. Now there’s less pressure on his development, and the Raptors can keep the floor spread, or use Boucher’s length and athleticism around the rim. He’s a really good complement to both Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, and both of those guys are doing a tremendous job of sharing the ball.
Cause for concern: The Raptors are really struggling to make shots inside the arc. They don’t turn the ball over much and they don’t crash the offensive boards, so the Raptors dealing with a lot of famine inside the 3-point line is tough for their offensive attack. They can’t just rely on the 3-point shooting. They have to move without the ball, keep swinging it around the half court and find easier ways for them to score. That’ll help collapse the defense and then give them those 3-point attempts they’re good at to balance the attack.
OffRtg: 109.8 (23) DefRtg: 111.4 (15) NetRtg: -1.6 (18) Pace: 95.4 (29)
After shooting 41% from 3-point range through their first five games, the Raptors finally cooled off (9-for-39) in their second of two games against the Sixers. Fred VanVleet’s 0-for-11 matched Russell Westbrook’s performance from eight days earlier and the Raps couldn’t stop Tyrese Maxey. They beat the Sixers with Joel Embiid, but lost the game he missed. The Raps’ Week 1 loss in Brooklyn (the Nets’ lone win) doesn’t look so good right now, either. But they’re 3-3, having played all six games within the expected top nine in the East.
Pascal Siakam was the one bright spot on Friday and has had a terrific start to the season, averaging 25.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists. The only other players averaging at least 25, seven and seven are Luka Doncic and LeBron James. And Siakam (true shooting percentage of 57.0%) has been a more efficient scorer than James (53.1%). That 57% is his best mark since the Raptors’ championship season and it comes with a career-high usage rate of 29.8%. The percentage of his shots that have come in the paint is a career-low 53%, but he’s been able to knock down jumpers. P.J. Tucker was daring him to shoot early on Wednesday and Siakam went 4-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first quarter. He cooled off after that, but dished out a career-high 13 assists in the victory.
The Raptors will play two more games within that assumed top-nine in the East this week. And with how frisky the Spurs have been, their trip to Texas won’t be a cup of tea either. They were 10-5 (tied for the East’s best mark) in Western Conference arenas last season.
Week 3: vs. ATL, @ SAS, @ DAL, vs. CHI
17. Toronto Raptors
Previous ranking: 18
Pascal Siakam’s All-NBA play did not tail off the second week of the season. He led the Raptors to wins against the Heat and 76ers, and his impressive playmaking peaked in a 13-assist outing against Philadelphia. On offense, Toronto lags behind most of the league but its defense—which picks off more passes than almost any other team—has been so limiting it makes up for that deficiency. That defense will be tested against the Hawks, Spurs and Mavericks this week.
Fred VanVleet’s usage percentage is 15.7, seventh among regular rotation players
Last year: 2nd on Raptors (23.3 percent)
That’s right: Siakam, Barnes, Trent Jr., Achiuwa, Anunoby and Boucher are using more possessions than VanVleet, who was an All-Star a year ago. VanVleet has said he is OK playing facilitator, although his coach wants him to be more aggressive. (That was before VanVleet’s awful 0-for-11 night Friday.)
“We want him to get some more attempts. He’s too good of a shooter for us to go up and down, up and down for a large section of the game without getting some attempts. We’ll try to involve him with setting screens for him, coming off the ball, not being on the ball or in ball screens because a lot of times teams are just switching to make him get off it. We’re setting some off the ball (for him). … We’re just trying to use him (with) a bunch of different tactics.”
Sustainability scale: 3. He was just below his career high in usage last season, and there are good reasons it is down this year. Barnes and Achiuwa are more familiar with the offence, and the Raptors want them to take a bigger share of the offence. If and when the Raptors’ shooting cools down a bit, though, VanVleet will take a bigger role. As well, turnovers count toward usage percentage, and VanVleet’s caretaking will not remain this pristine.
Young impacts the game in ways that aren’t always reflected in the box score. He’s not the type of player that’s going to come in and score in bunches. Over his 16-year career, he’s carved out a niche as one of the league’s great glue guys – a high IQ player who does a bit of everything on both ends of the floor and makes his teammates better.
So far, head coach Nick Nurse has kept his rotation tight, with the bulk of the minutes going to his top seven players – the five starters as a well as Achiuwa and Boucher. From there, he’s skewed younger. Rookie centre Christian Koloko and sophomore point guard Dalano Banton are the only other players who have appeared in all six games. It could just be a positional thing, with Nurse prioritizing Koloko’s size or Banton’s quickness in certain matchups. Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, they may prefer to use those minutes to develop and see what they’ve got in those younger guys.
Of course, nothing is set in stone. It’s a long season and the back end of Nurse’s rotation tends to be fluid. He spoke to Young after last Monday’s game in Miami, the first of two straight DNPs for the veteran forward, and his message was: “stay ready.”
“I wouldn’t say that I planned on not using him in Miami that night, it’s just kind of how it turned out,” Nurse said last week. “We’ll see. We’re gonna need him, there’s just no doubt about it. It’s kind of a night-to-night thing.”
Young’s routine hasn’t changed much, even if his role has. If anything, he’ll be at the gym a bit earlier, or leave a bit later to make sure he’s getting his work in. And even if he’s not able to contribute as much as he’d like to on the court, he knows that he can always make an impact off of it.
“When you’re not playing you have to find other ways to make the team better,” said Young. “One of my ways is continuous leadership – helping the young guys, making sure I’m giving tem pointers on what to do, yelling at guys from the bench, and then constantly staying in the young guys’ ears. Some of the young guys come in and they have a lack of confidence, but I try to continue building them up, continue helping them grow their game.”
He can’t help but have some déjà vu. Young found himself in a similar spot a year ago, sitting on the bench and waiting for his opportunity. He was going into the final year of his contract when the rebuilding Spurs acquired him from Chicago in the DeMar DeRozan sign and trade, and he didn’t factor into their long-term plans. At one point, he appeared in four of 28 games for San Antonio before being dealt to the Raptors for veteran guard Goran Dragic and a first-round pick.
Unlike Dragic, who requested a personal leave when he fell out of the rotation in Toronto, Young stuck it out. Despite his disappointment, he remained professional, continued to bring leadership and help guide his younger teammates, and worked hard to stay ready for his next opportunity, whenever and wherever it would come.
The trade to Toronto was freeing, in that sense. It felt like the perfect fit for the player and for the team. With the Raptors, he was playing regularly again, making an impact on the floor while also bringing some much-needed veteran leadership to one of the league’s up-and-coming clubs at a crucial time, heading into a playoff push. That’s why he signed a new two-year, $16.3 million deal to remain with the franchise this past July.
The irony of finding himself back in limbo isn’t lost on him, but he’s handling it the only way he knows how.
If there was anything else to be gleaned from Friday’s loss, it’s this: Barring a trade that significantly changes Toronto’s roster, Nurse will likely be hard-pressed to make good on his pre-season vow to play VanVleet less exhaustively than he did a season ago, when the wear-and-tear of the six-month grind saw him miss Toronto’s final two playoff games to injury.
Witness Friday’s game, when the heart-and-soul point guard was obviously out of rhythm and possibly ailing, and Nurse still felt the need to stick with him for 34 minutes. Sure enough, six games in VanVleet is averaging a team-high 38 minutes a game, up a tick from last season, when VanVleet and Pascal Siakam sat atop the league averaging 37.9 minutes apiece.
“I’m gonna play him less minutes,” Nurse said before the season. “I think that he has played great and we need him out there. But we’ve got more depth, as we learned in the playoffs we can move pieces and do some things.”
Never mind the notion that treating VanVleet as beyond indispensable has already proven unsustainable. The idea that the Raptors have more depth is so far more theoretical than practical. Last season, the Raptors bench was the least-used in the league, averaging a scant 14.4 minutes a night. This year, Nurse is using his reserves even more scarcely, playing them a league-low average of 12.9 minutes.
Raptors all-star point guard Fred VanVleet was shut out on 11 field-goal attempts Friday night against the 76ers.
Some of that comes down to a difficult early-season schedule, and some can be attributed to the early-season absence of Otto Porter Jr., the team’s key free-agent acquisition. His shooting prowess will be a welcome addition off the bench whenever he’s ready for action. Porter, alas, has yet to play a game on account of a hamstring injury and, more recently, an excused absence from the team for personal reasons.
So far the only reserves getting steady minutes are Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher and Christian Koloko. Achiuwa has been relied upon for 23.2 minutes a game, right around last season’s rate. And there are those who’d suggest it would make sense to move Achiuwa into the starting lineup so that Gary Trent Jr. can provide instant offence off the bench. Boucher, who missed the opening three games with a hamstring injury, figures to average something close to the 22 minutes he played Friday. And Koloko, the seven-foot-one rookie who played a season-low 10 minutes, figures to get a fair shake at a regular run.
Beyond that, the bench has been hard-pressed to find a niche.
Veteran power forward Thaddeus Young was left out of Nurse’s rotation entirely in the two games previous to Friday, when he played all of five minutes. And as for Juancho Hernangómez, the Netflix star whom Nurse had spoken of as a welcome addition as a three-point shooter? The Spaniard didn’t take his first field-goal attempt of the season until Friday night, when he was inserted for a scant three minutes. In the previous five games he’d played just once, getting six minutes in the season opener.
To expect VanVleet not to bounce back would ignore years of history and his driven personality, a willingness to accept the challenges and responsibility of leadership.
He is an NBA all-star and a champion, a driven leader whose level of frustration and anger about games like Friday’s starts with himself, long before it moves onto teammates or coaches or even circumstances.
“I think that we all know the value that he has as a leader for us,” coach Nick Nurse said Sunday. “And that usually means this for him: He really impacts winning. That’s kind of his M.O. his whole life.
“I say this, too: Those guys are going to have (a bad game) once in a while. They’re not always going to play great. How do you bounce back? How quick do you bounce back? So, he’s a prideful guy, he’s a competitive guy. I’m sure he’s not happy with the way he played the other night.”
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet was his own toughest critic after Friday’s loss to the 76ers at Scotiabank Arena. “I’ll definitely take responsibility.”
“Just a tough night for me overall,” he said. “I didn’t have much pop, much energy.”
The blessing, if one can call it that, is that the chance to bounce back comes quickly. He’ll get to chase around the speedy Atlanta backcourt of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray when the Hawks are at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night, and Friday’s game will be a million kilometres in the rearview mirror.
“There’s definitely no nights off,” the 28-year-old VanVleet said. “That’s the great part about the NBA, it’s a challenge every night. You’ve got to be up to the task. I just look forward to putting that one (Friday) behind us and moving on.”
The task of trying to slow Young and Murray of the 4-2 Hawks won’t fall solely on VanVleet, because the Raptors defend as a group. Still, VanVleet is who he is and he accepts it.
“There’s some nights where I know I have a big burden of responsibility, like obviously Trae Young is one of those guys,” he said. “The problem is, I take it personal if anybody scores on me. So, it’s a little frustrating at times, but (I’ve) just got to trust the overall plan and the defensive schemes.”
VanVleet, who knew he’d have to do a media scrum Sunday, made it clear there’s nothing physically wrong with him. He knew the questions would come, and answered them forthrightly as he always does. He went to the locker room briefly in the second quarter Friday (“yes, everything was fine”) and changed shoes at halftime because he does that often.
Much ado about nothing.
“We don’t have to make it a big deal. The next time you guys see me, I’ll be better,” he said. “And we’ll go from there.”
Toronto is going to need VanVleet back at 100% Monday night when the new-look Atlanta Hawks come to town with Dejounte Murray and Trae Young leading the way. If Maxey was a problem for the Raptors on Friday, Young poses a much bigger threat as a similarly quick and uber-talented offensive player who has given VanVleet fits in the past.
Last year, for example, Young broke out for 41 points in late February against the Raptors with 24 of those coming against an ailing and slowed VanVleet as his primary defender, per NBA Stats. This time around, the Raptors are planning to approach Young a little differently this time around.
“I think you just gotta show bodies and show a crowd,” VanVleet said of defending Young. “I think just being in tune to the game plan and just having the focus and the energy to get just fight and get through the screens, and be able to show multiple bodies.”
If that doesn’t work, Monday could turn into a shootout for the Raptors and VanVleet might need to start that streak again with a couple of three-pointers as he finds his groove again.
It’s actually a testament to his consistency that it was still a subject some 38 hours after the fact.
But watching VanVleet go 0-for while his primary defensive cover in Tyrese Maxey was going off on his way to a 44-point night was just so out of character.
VanVleet admitted he did not sleep well after that performance, but that dwelling on it is not an option.
And, again, if we’re all being honest, few expect to see another night like that VanVleet any time soon, certainly not VanVleet himself.
“It was just one of them nights, man,” VanVleet said. “I don’t really have too many of those. It was just one of them. It takes a lot of energy and takes a lot of focus and just the high performance I work myself toward being one of those players where the team depends on me to do a lot of things. I didn’t really answer the call in many of those areas. You won’t see many of those from me. I’m looking forward to bouncing back. Just a tough night for me overall. I didn’t have much pop, much energy. I’ve had a few games like that. I usually throw a couple threes in there late and people forget about it. It didn’t go that way this time. I’ll live with it. I’m built for it. I’ll bounce back.”
For the record, VanVleet’s line was 0-for-11 from the field, 0-for-8 from three-point range and 1-of-3 from the line for a one point night. Maxey, and it wasn’t VanVleet solely responsible for him, but he was on him the majority of the night, shot 15-for-20 from the field, 9-for-13 from three and five-of-six from the line.
Fortunately, VanVleet doesn’t carry previous games with him for long, the good or the bad.
“I didn’t sleep much,” VanVleet said. “It’ll keep you up all night thinking about this, playing it back in your head. Then you wake up and it’s a new day. I don’t really hold on to good games or bad games that long. I’ve got a pretty short memory when it comes to that.”
But as for excuses, like maybe the late decision by Philly to sit Joel Embiid and how that played into Toronto’s seeming lack of preparation, VanVleet had no time for that at all.
“I don’t know,” VanVleet said. “I don’t really think there are many excuses we can make. It’s kind of a no-excuse league. There are people we can talk to within the organization that we can give explanations. I don’t really put you guys on that list. It doesn’t really matter why or when and how. Just the fact that we didn’t answer the call. I was terrible. We move on.”
Head coach Nick Nurse is one of a handful of people who seem to realize, or at least publicly state and understand, that asking a player never to be ‘off’ is unrealistic.
He consistently talks about just asking his players to give him a little more. It’s ‘not be perfect every night;’ it’s ‘give me that great play three out of four nights’ or four out of five nights instead of two out of five or one every five.
And when it comes to VanVleet, well, to say the concern metre about getting what he needs from him is low for Nurse would be a huge understatement.
“He really impacts winning, right?” Nurse said. “That’s kind of his M.O. his whole life, right? You know when he has a tough game like he had the other night, you know me, I say this too, those guys are going to have those once in a while. They’re not always going to play great. How do you bounce back? How quick do you bounce back? All those things. Again, I think all those things fall under his M.O., right? So, he’s a prideful guy, he’s a competitive guy. I’m sure he’s not happy with the way he played the other night.”