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— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) November 18, 2022
“It’s going to take time but the sky’s the limit for that kid.”
Kyle Lowry can see through Scottie Barnes' recent slump. The franchise icon knows what it takes to become a star in Toronto and he sees some familiar qualities in the Raptors' sophomore: https://t.co/mMAK6T4Fi4 pic.twitter.com/zfTboLiyrt
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) November 17, 2022
It would be weird watching a Toronto Raptors game without Twitter. pic.twitter.com/ekfUABVyDS
— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) November 18, 2022
Goodnight Raptors Twitter
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) November 18, 2022
We know that creating turnovers through ball pressure, unpredictable schemes and collapsing in the paint is a foundational part of the Raptors’ path to success. Not only do they want to do it for the defence’s sake, but also to ignite the offence in transition. (That last part did not play out on Wednesday, as 18 of Miami’s 23 turnovers resulted in a stoppage in play, while another happened at the very end of the first quarter.) The feast-or-famine style of their defence is off the charts this year.
It stands to reason that the teams who are best at making their opponents shoot poorly have the best defences, and that those who are bad at it are among the worst — and that is generally true. The Raptors are an exception. Last year, they finished with the league’s ninth-ranked defence while placing just 18th in opponent effective field goal percentage. That was already notable, as the eight teams that ranked ahead of them finished, in order of defensive rating, first, second, third, 12th, fifth, 10th, sixth and fourth in opponent eFG%. The best defensive team to finish behind Toronto in that statistic was Milwaukee, who ranked 14th in defence and 19th in opponent eFG%.
This year, it’s gotten plain silly. Before Thursday’s games, the Raptors ranked 10th in defensive ranking and 27th in opponent eFG%. Only four teams in the last 20 years have had a top-10 defence while having a bottom-10 opponent eFG%, and two of them come from the small sample size of this season, not yet a quarter done. (Hi, Cavs!)
Can the Raptors continue to be a relatively strong defensive team while allowing their opponent to connect on so many of their shots? In other words: Is this sustainable?
“I think that we are getting close at covering some of that stuff up,” Nurse said after the Miami win. “I think we’re just a half count or a full count late at getting back to blocking some of those shots at the rim. I think we had a game (against) Chicago … when we were pretty much in rotation the whole night because of our scheme and everybody was really quick and energetic and getting back there. I think if I could see some improvement, it would probably be Christian (Koloko) and Chris (Boucher) getting there a count sooner so they’re not committing those little tap fouls. I think they’re shot blockers. I think they should be getting some of those and that would probably help the field goal percentage defence a little bit.”
Before we get to Nurse’s point, a quick note: A high opponent 3-point percentage is an easy way to bump up eFG%, and often written off to luck rather than defensive skill. However, Raptors opponents are shooting 36.1 percent from 3, just three-tenths of a percentage point above average, and shooting 35.3 treys per 100 possessions, 11th-most in the league. The Raptors’ schemes are not getting them buried in 3s. It’s been manageable.
Instead, the Raptors’ opponents are getting to the paint frequently, with 37.5 percent of their field goal attempts coming within six feet of the rim. Only Utah (ninth in defensive rating), San Antonio (29th) and Oklahoma City (14th) allow a higher percentage.
Indeed, containing dribble penetration has been a recurring problem for the Raptors this year. As Nurse alluded to, defending the rim when opponents get there has also been an issue.
Scottie Barnes’ sophomore slump: The Raptors need to get healthy, and the half-court offence remains a big issue. However, from a big-picture perspective, Barnes’ so-so start to the season is the thing to monitor. Barnes’ playmaking skills have flashed multiple times, but his shooting from all areas of the court has lagged, especially since Pascal Siakam got injured. This is a young player stepping into a bigger role, so some struggles should be expected. The return of Siakam should allow him to more comfortably navigate what is being asked of him. — Eric Koreen
Months ago, an NBA executive said that the Young signing was a bit of a gamble. It wasn’t that the 34-year-old couldn’t play; it was the opposite. He had lots of game left and was not going to be happy at all as a part-time player.
Not disruptive publicly because he’s not that kind of guy but he holds a ton of sway in the locker room and even ripples of discontent can turn into waves.
And bet the Raptors knew it.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse has mentioned often that he went immediately to Young after his first DNP-CD to explain that Young’s time would come.
It was a pre-emptive strike, to be sure. The last thing the coach wants is a player ticked off at him 10 games into a season when that player would be asked to play a big role sometime down the line.
As Young has.
He’s been a steadying force through a spate of injuries. Nothing spectacular but on point, a “glue guy” if ever there was one.
In the last two games, he has averaged 10.5 points in 30 minutes. He’s gone 8-for-14 from the field (57.1 per cent) with 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
The way he handled those early season nights when he never saw the court impressed his coaches, teammates and Raptors executives.
They feared it might go off the rails.
“I can’t say he wasn’t frustrated but he was still there, still coming in and getting his work in and being locked into the group and trying to help the guys,” Fred VanVleet said after the Miami game.
When — or if, more likely — the Raptors get fully healthy, Young is likely to go back to more sporadic appearances but management and the coaching staff now know that he’s going to handle it as well as possible.
After a smooth-sailing rookie season, the 21-year-old Toronto Raptors sophomore found himself entrenched in the first shooting slump of his brief career. He hadn’t looked right, shooting just 34.1% from the field over his previous six games coming into Wednesday night, and he knew it.
“You can see that I’m in the middle of a shooting slump, I realize, I recognize that,” he said following Wednesday’s 112-104 victory over the Miami Heat. “But, just trying to stay confident, get through it, keep trying to be aggressive, trust your work, trust your craft, I feel like that’s what’s gonna get me through it every single day.”
It helped, Barnes said, having the confidence of his teammates in his ear pushing him to keep staying aggressive. Even with Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet sidelined and away from the team, the two veterans kept on Barnes, messaging him to keep being himself.
“Them boys giving me confidence when I’m out there on the floor, I feel like that’s a big thing,” Barnes said. “I really took that to heart, them boys texting me when they’re at home doing what they do to get better, them telling me, I feel like that’s a big thing.”
VanVleet said he hadn’t realized the extent of the criticism until he was at home sick watching the Raptors play the Detroit Pistons from afar. To him, it was “ridiculous” and “overblown.” A six-game slump for the reigning Rookie of the Year was anything but alarming.
“Everybody goes through it. There’s highs, there’s lows, there’s good games and bad games,” VanVleet said. “Nobody around here is worried about him. We know how great of a player he’s going to be. There’s not any young player I would trade him for. The sky’s the limit for him.”
VanVleet is more of a straight shooter and continued Wednesday: “But since you asked, we talk about all type of things. Life, family everything. Talk about basketball, he watches all our games, believe it or not.”
“I watch as many games of them as I can stomach, I’m a Kyle fan, I’m not really a Heat fan,” VanVleet added.
He also mentioned how Lowry still remains, in some ways, a mentor to him, though VanVleet can also share his experiences and thoughts.
“He’s helping me through, obviously, this transition of me running the show now, I always lean on him for advice, he’s always in my corner to help me and vice versa,” VanVleet said.
VanVleet returned from injury to score 23 points and added eight assists against Miami. Lowry had a strong game as well with 19 points.
Lowry knows every trick in the book and uses that to his advantage, which can get frustrating for opponents. But VanVleet said it doesn’t bother him.
“No, it’s funny for me. There’s nothing he could do to frustrate me. It’s annoying when he tricks the refs but other than that, it’s just fun watching him do what he does. I thought he was old three years ago, to see him still kicking and making an impact and putting pressure on the defence, you could just see the greatness in him,” VanVleet said.
“I think he sensed it wasn’t going to go his way (on Wednesday) after he tried to get a call reviewed or something. Once the refs don’t let him trick them, we’re in good shape.”
The Raptors 905 visited the Greensboro Swarm on Tuesday afternoon, and usually, the visitors would struggle to go through a matinee game. Still, the Raptors 905 jumped on the Swarm in the first half, building a 24-point lead as they made it rain from the perimeter. The visitors made 8-for-14 and got a Nexus lane pass to the bucket in transition, shooting a blistering 60% overall in the first half. Perhaps the Swarm woke up and smelled the coffee during halftime, as they held the Raptors 905 to 15 points in the third frame and kept pushing in the fourth, cutting the lead to four with less than two minutes left. However, Reggie Perry and Ron Harper Jr. had enough juice late in the game to prevent a collapse. Of course, Saben Lee came up with another steal to ice the game as the Raptors 905 defeated the Swarm 123-116.
Ron Harper Jr. led all scorers with his career-high 29 points and seven rebounds while drilling three trifectas. Gabe Brown also notched his career-high with 23 points, eight rebounds, and shooting 5-for-8 from the perimeter. The duo combined for 7-for-9 shooting from downtown in the first half, and their shooting set the tone for the team. Reggie Perry added 25 points and six rebounds, while Saben Lee dropped 19 points, nine assists, and three steals.
Gabe Brown opening up the game with a three-pointer felt like it set the table for the Raptors 905. They wound up going for 3/7 from the perimeter this quarter. Still, it stretched the defense allowing Reggie Perry’s interior passing and Saben Lee’s drives to the basket to have relative success. However, the Swarm were getting what they wanted on the other side of the floor. Mark Williams was a big presence inside. It was a good back-and-forth affair to start the game, but the Raptors 905 went on a 13-4 run to end the quarter, with their defense warming up, leading to transition points.