You know how in Mortal Kombat, Shang Tsung physically draws the soul from your body https://t.co/E9N7wBjLGh
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) October 31, 2023
I think this quote from Jakob Poeltl neatly sums up where the Raptors are right now, which is last in the NBA in points per play in the half court: pic.twitter.com/4OyVPdPi76
— Michael Grange (@michaelgrange) October 31, 2023
Something to inspire Toronto Raptors fans during these trying times:
Scottie Barnes is averaging 20.8 points on 52.3 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.0 steals, and 2.5 blocks in his first four games.
— Chris Walder (@WalderSports) October 31, 2023
Siakam had a giant share of the offence in the first half Monday, while Scottie Barnes took over in the second half as the main option. Not that the Raptors offence was suddenly a carbon copy of last year’s version, but Siakam was heavily involved in more of the Raptors’ initial actions in the half court. There were even isolations in space for Siakam. The Raptors don’t want to get in the habit of relying on those, but something needs to keep them afloat as this process continues.
The passing? Well, it’s not going anywhere, which Rajaković blamed on a lack of pace in the early part of the shot clock.
“I don’t think we’re really doing it on purpose, but (at times) it seems like everybody’s just trying to make something happen almost randomly,” Poeltl said. “We’re not on the same page and then we just dribble into a crowd, try and kick out. The next guy’s dribbling into a crowd. We’re not really getting any advantages out of it. … The decision-making has got to be better to actually create advantages out of that offence.”
No matter who is leading the charge, the attack has been punchless. Coming into the game, Barnes was taking more shots, gathering more assists, getting the ball more often and holding it longer than Siakam. There is nothing wrong about that, except that Siakam is the more dangerous scorer at this point of their careers. He doesn’t quite have the pure passing skills that Barnes does, but he averaged 5.8 assists to just 2.4 turnovers per game last year.
The Raptors should be expanding the limits of what Barnes is doing on the floor. The future of the franchise depends, in no small part, on Barnes coming as close to his ceiling as possible. Saying that, he has to be held accountable, too. He took two turnaround jumpers against Portland, and his turnovers are way up to start the year. He had four of the Raptors’ 11 on Monday.
More than that, there just isn’t much connecting the Raptors’ two most important offensive players unless they are out in transition. That is a problem plaguing the Raptors on the whole. They are trying to do what their coach wants, but so far it looks like a lot of passes that don’t lead anywhere fruitful.
This should not be a situation pitting Siakam against Barnes. However, this is part of the risk of what the Raptors are doing. How do you weigh the needs of a top-30 player against one who is trying to get there, especially when they are so similar stylistically? That is a recipe for internal tension.
It is very, very early. At some point, though, what the Raptors are doing has to simultaneously benefit Siakam and Barnes. If not, familiar questions are going to present themselves in the winter — if they take even that long to surface.
The game had a slightly out-sized importance because the Raptors — if not fragile — are still a long way from being fully baked.
What the Raptors are trying to do — adopt a more egalitarian offence that relies on more ball movement and cutting and so far has meant fewer touches for pending free agents Siakam, Gary Trent Jr., and O.G. Anunoby — has been well documented. And there has been a lot of air given to the notion that first-year head coach Rajakovic has both the tactical chops and the bridge-building abilities to sell the program to a group of pros who might want to reserve judgment.
In that context, a loss at home to a team that projects to be one of the weakest in the league? It can’t happen. This was a game the Raptors needed to have both in the standings and for the spirit of the whole thing.
“When you win, you’re getting that positive feedback. That what you’re doing and all the time and investment that you’re putting in, it’s giving you that positive feedback,” said Rajakovic. “When you’re winning games, you’re recovering better. When you’re winning. It’s much easier to learn new things, to be open to new things. So it is important. But everything comes for young guys, for young teams. It’s coming with time, and the time they’re putting in to do the work.”
But winning games that should be winnable — on home court no less — is part of the recipe too. Perhaps even the essential ingredient in a new approach that might have long-term benefits, but requires avoiding falling into the kind of hole they might need the rest of the regular season to dig out from.
When it comes right down to it, one man saved this game for Portland: center Deandre Ayton. So far this season, Ayton has experienced foul trouble, a lack of shots, and short minutes in games. He still didn’t get a ton of attempts (9), but he stayed on the court for 32 minutes, committing just a single personal foul against Toronto’s center lineup. He also got a pair of blocked shots.
Ayton’s 23 rebounds win the grand prize, though. Toronto was getting shot after shot in the critical fourth period until Ayton put an end to it all by himself. During that same period, Portland was missing their own attempts just when they needed to widen the lead and put away the game. Ayton’s offensive rebounds in crunch time gave them extra possessions. They didn’t always score off of them, but they ate enough clock to put an end to Toronto’s attempt to streak ahead at the end of the game.
Ayton was the man tonight. Nobody else came close.
That three point percentage only dropped as we approached the end of the game. In the end, the Raptors shot 13.8% from three the whole game, only making four out of their 29 attempts. That was really the kicker in the game. They took too long to make decisions in their half court offence and when it came down to crunch, they didn’t have a good shot to make. While they have been doing a little better in transition, this lack of cohesion in the half court is really starting to make the team lag.
After the game, Darko Rajakovic commented on just this. He said they need to be faster in making decisions. He also mentioned the need to address team issues over individual issues when it comes to these offensive woes the Raptors are struggling with, and emphasized the need to stay together.
Another issue was the bench production, as most of Portland’s defensive rebounds came when Jakob Poeltl was sitting. Of course Precious Achiuwa was out, meaning your primary back up was missing — BUT 16 defensive rebounds from one player is still too many to be giving up. Gradey Dick made up for it a little bit by grabbing six of his own defensive rebounds, but the bench production on both ends of the floor needs to improve if the team is going to hold onto these winnable games. They scored a collective 17 points total out of the team’s 91.
Unfortunately, the schedule isn’t going to help the Raptors hopes of turning their early season record around. Their next game is against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday — also known as the Giannis and Dame show. After that, they head right to Philadelphia to face the 76ers for the second time in a week AND the second time they’ve faced them on a second night of a back to back. From there, they head to San Antonio to face the Spurs (potential win or Wemby showcase?), then to Dallas to face the Mavericks and Luka Doncic. They’ll end their road trip in Boston to face the championship hopeful Celtics before coming home.
After that, it’s another slew of tough opponents through the end of November that will have them see Milwaukee and the Celtics again as well as some other formidable opponents.
The Raptors will need to bring up their shooting percentages if they have a chance of beating some of these teams, but luckily their defence has been manageable for the most part — something that will help them in this stretch.
“That’s a terrible shooting night for us and we feel we can just keep getting those open looks where we can make those shots,” Raptors forward Scottie Barnes said.
“Other than that, we just have to stay on the same page with our cutting and get into our right spots and just get our offence to be able to move the ball.”
Malcolm Brogdon added 21 off the bench for Portland (1-3). Deandre Ayton contributed 10 points and 23 rebounds.
“Obviously, this is an incredible win for us,” said Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “Coming off of last night (a 28-point loss to Philadelphia) … our guys were focused, man. We just had so many people contribute.”
Sophomore guard Shaedon Sharpe from London, Ont., scored 14.
“Playing basketball in Mississauga, in the (Greater Toronto Area), (I) basically grew up down here in Toronto,” Sharpe said. “So just being able to play in the city I grew up in, kind of, is really a blessing and to get a dub (win) is really a blessing.”
Barnes and Pascal Siakam had 20 points apiece to lead Toronto (1-3).
The Raptors opened the first quarter on an 8-2 run, with Siakam scoring six of those points, just 1:48 into the contest.
However, the Blazers countered much of Toronto’s efforts to pull further ahead by hitting five of their 11 shots from three-point range and going into the break only down 25-21.
Portland took its first lead 1:31 into the second quarter, with Sharpe contributing to what turned into an 8-0 run with a steal and fastbreak dunk.
After Portland took a 43-38 lead on a Scoot Henderson jumper, Siakam capped a 12-4 run to end the frame and the Raptors went into halftime up 50-47.
Barnes took control in the third quarter, scoring 12 points in the first half of the frame, including a 26-foot pull-up three-pointer. However, the Blazers went on an 11-0 run to turn around from a 68-65 deficit.
After rookie Gradey Dick scored four of Toronto’s next six, Brogdon capped the frame with a layup to put Portland ahead 80-74.
The Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers found themselves at a crossroads at last year’s trade deadline.
Both teams had been disappointing heading into that faithful Feb. 9 afternoon. Toronto entered the day 26-30, clinging to the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference. Portland similarly found itself in 10th in the West, but with a slightly better record, just one game below .500.
Despite nearly identical situations, the teams took radically different approaches to that afternoon and the ensuing months. The Raptors decided to preach the value of winning, adding Jakob Poeltl, and trying — unsuccessfully — to make the playoffs. Portland, conversely, tanked for the sixth-worst record in the league before getting lucky in the draft lottery and moving up to the No. 3 pick.
Who’s better off now is complicated. Portland is loaded with young players and future draft capital while Toronto remains middling with the seventh-oldest roster in the NBA. Coming into the night, the Trail Blazers seemed a long way from NBA relevance but a 99-91 victory over Toronto now has both teams 1-3.
Both teams looked like their record suggests, underwhelming teams but at different stages in their developmental cycle. Portland’s younger players looked, well, young, but Malcolm Brogdon came up with huge crucial buckets in a 21-point effort for the Trail Blazers while Toronto’s persistent shooting woes, of course, persisted.
In reality, the Raptors couldn’t really shut down their star players the way the Trail Blazers did at last year’s deadline, but any step toward selling would have drastically changed Toronto’s fortunes. Maybe O.G. Anunoby could have been shipped out in a move that would have tanked Toronto’s defense? Maybe Fred VanVleet could have been dealt for something more the nothing they received when he departed for Houston in free agency? Maybe Toronto, who considered moving Pascal Siakam this summer, could have actually dealt their All-NBA star the way Portland did with their franchise superstar?
Would they have won the lottery? Would they be better in the long run?
But Toronto never got to find out, instead, the organization opted to put its faith in the value of winning for the development of its generally young core.
As a team, Toronto succeeded on just four of its 29 three-point attempts, a terrible number as Scottie Barnes pointed out, but not necessarily a surprising one given the lack of shooting touch on this team.
Head coach Darko Rajakovic said the ball is still moving, but lately it’s been moving around the perimeter a lot and not getting inside into the paint, where defences have to react to it.
Rajakovic said his group as a whole has to focus on at least getting the ball into the middle of the painted area before it can free up shooters for at least a plausible decent look.
Shaedon Sharpe of the Trail Blazers, the high flyer who is a native of London, Ont., was one of a handful of bright spots for the visiting team. Sharpe is in his second NBA season, but he already has made the kind of jump most young NBA players don’t see until their third season or later.
Sharpe was a force in this one with 14 points and two big blocks.
Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups had high praise for his rising sophomore, pointing out his talent, but also suggesting Sharpe has the took kit to become one of the elite defenders in the league.
While his offence remains well ahead of his defence at this point, it wasn’t hard to see what Billups was talking about with Sharpe’s play at either end of the floor.
But the major difference in this one was Henderson’s veteran backup Malcolm Brogdon, the one-time Milwaukee Buck and more recent member of the Boston Celtics, who turned the tide in this game with 21 points off the bench for Trail Blazers.
Brogdon single-handed outscored the entire Raptors bench with those 21 points to the 17 which Rajakovic received from his bench.
The Raptors were without the services of Precious Achiuwa, who aggravated the left groin strain he suffered in training camp, but that alone should not have been enough to send this one Portland’s way.
Dick’s best attribute is that he knows what he doesn’t know. He has a handful of veterans around him to learn from, and the first-round draft pick isn’t going to big-time any of his teammates.
“It’s one thing for them to give advice in practice and the daily things without a game played,” he said, “but to have that in a game (when) they see something that you don’t — because I’m obviously the new guy — and for them to let me know right away is something that every team doesn’t have.”
Those who are helping him through the daunting prospect of learning the NBA game and the NBA life are taking notice.
“He makes me think a little bit like me when I first came in the game,” Chris Boucher said at Monday’s shootaround. “I just wanted to look for a shot and I knew that I could make it.
“Gradey got a lot of confidence and he’s learning the game just like a sponge, he wants to learn. You could see that he loves the game and he’s a really good teammate. It’s fun to help somebody and see him progress and get better.”
Dick’s development is a critical part of the season for Raptors management. He is a significant part of the longer-term outlook and the Raptors need to expand his skills.
General manager Bobby Webster has said Dick, the 13th pick in the June draft, is more than just a shooter. Now it’s up to the six-foot-eight swingman to show that’s true, and it’s up to Rajakovic and his staff to make that happen.
The coach has grandiose plans.
“I think that he’s moving without the ball really well, that he’s good cutter; I think that he’ll be able to create off the dribble as well; I think is his game is progressing,” Rajakovic said. “Obviously he’s still very young and a rookie, but I can see him being able to be in pick-and-rolls. I think he’s very good decision maker when he has the ball in his hands, finding open people. So I see a lot a lot a lot upside with Gradey.”
And it’s been seen more rapidly than some had expected.
Two-way players (two-way salary, $559,782; up to 50 per cent guaranteed)
Beginning in 2017-18, NBA teams were allowed to sign two players to two-way deals, contracts that offered an elevated G League salary and allowed a player to spend up to 45 days with the NBA team, during which they’d earn even more. Those rules have changed over time. Two-way players now earn half the rookie minimum whether they’re in the NBA or G League and can now receive guarantees.
They can also spend up to 50 game days active on the NBA roster, rather than 45 game and practice days in total.
The Raptors tend to try and balance their two-way spots between helping the NBA club on an emergency basis (Lorenzo Brown, Jeff Dowtin Jr.) and long-term development (Chris Boucher, Ron Harper Jr.).
This is the first year with a third two-way spot. The Raptors are once again taking one longer-term flier in the undersized Markquis Nowell, who is a highlight reel passer but will need to show he can pull up from range and provide capable defence despite his size to take the next step. They have also made sure to have additional NBA depth on a two-way deal with Javon Freeman-Liberty, a combo guard who impressed in the pre-season after strong showings in the G League last year and at Summer League in July. The third two-way spot is something we’ve rarely seen, as Ron Harper Jr. is back for a second two-way season after an up-and-down 2022-23 that trended in the right direction late in the year.
Two-way spots can be churned easily, as the guarantees are modest and they do not count against the cap or tax. (You do not retain a player’s G League rights if you waive him off his two-way deal, however.) Two-way players are not eligible for call-ups from another NBA team even while in the G League.