4. The early returns on Rajakovic’s approach are promising, even if the results aren’t fully there.
On defence, the Raptors have overhauled their hyper-aggressive approach, cut off corner threes and contested paint touches, to mostly leave opponents with jumpers from the top. Philadelphia has the exact weapons — a battering ram in Embiid, and an explosive guard in Tyrese Maxey — to punish their weaknesses, but the scheme should work great against most opponents.
Rajakovic has also shown a willingness to innovate: He changed coverages on Maxey by slotting Anunoby on him, and also by having Dennis Schroder force him off the three-point line, while closing with a smallball lineup against Embiid without Poeltl to match for size.
On the other side, Toronto has gone from being one of the most basic and conservative offences to a team that is so willing to pass that they even strung together a sequence where four players turned down open looks. It eventually led to a turnover, but the passing has led to open looks and a more creative attack.
With more time to settle into their new strategies, and a stronger bench, the wins should follow.
Barnes was the biggest reason the Raptors were able to hang in this game for nearly three quarters before the reality of the Tyrese Maxey-Joel Embiid pick-and-roll, tired legs and a weak bench did them in. Barnes had 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He is averaging 21.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game to start the season. After a sophomore season that was marked by Barnes’ floating in and out of games, he has brought it every night.
Barnes is playing all over the place on both ends. On one possession, he’s dancing with the ball against backup 76ers centre Paul Reed, getting to the hoop strongly. On others, he’s operating as the play-making centre from the elbows, making the correct reads.
Defensively, he spent some possessions on Maxey, the electric guard, and then essentially backed up Jakob Poeltl in guarding Embiid. Barnes still is at his best when he can make plays roaming away from the main action, but he is flashing the ability to hold his own on both ends of the positional spectrum. That is very important as a team is built out.
Barnes is trying things he has barely flashed before. With his initial look at the rim covered in the first quarter, Barnes dropped the ball to Poeltl and then relocated to the elbow to his right — sprinting. The decisiveness stood out. There was nothing casual about the decision. Barnes did it with intent. He needs to make sure not to become too reliant on his 3, because that is not his strength. Quibbles. Teams take their cues from their best players, and that is what Barnes is looking to become.
“I talked to Scottie before the game, like, ‘You need to have that energy. I need to bring the energy,” Pascal Siakam said Wednesday after the Raptors win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Right now, it is up to both of them to set the tone. Barnes has been guilty of doing a little too much, especially when passing. He is maybe a tad too ambitious with some of his dishes. He has been unable to lift up lineups in which he is the only starter. To be clear, that is more on his teammates than Barnes, but stars have a way of making those types of units work. Barnes is not a floor raiser in that sense.
More importantly, we continue to get glimpses of the ceiling.
What Worked for the Raptors:
Scottie Barnes: Scottie booked his 5th consecutive 20+ point game tonight with a stat line of 24 points eight assists and eight rebounds. He continues to be incredibly impressive on both ends of the floor. His progression is apparent as he is now getting the tough defensive assignments, is making three point shots, blocking near the rim, and more.
O.G. Anunoby: Anunoby not only scored his 600th career three point shot tonight but he also climbed to 4th in the Raptors all-time three point field goal ranking behind Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Morris Peterson.
What Did Not Work for the Raptors:
Cold Streaks: The Raptors had several cold offensive stints this game, allowing the 76ers to go out on runs. Barnes was the only player who scored above 20 points.
Couldn’t Stop Embiid: Joel Embiid played 34 minutes and scored 28 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. The Raptors already don’t have the depth they could have in their front court with both Christian Koloko and Precious Achiuwa out, so stopping Embiid was tough.
Barnes stays hot
Scottie Barnes continued his torrid scoring pace, leading the Raptors with 24 points to extended his career-best streak of 20-plus nights to five.
But he didn’t get an awful lot of help, especially from the bench as Toronto’s backups — Gary Trent Jr., Gradey Dick, Malachi Flynn, Chris Boucher and Jalen McDaniels — provided little help when the game was still in doubt.
Couldn’t get going
Siakam had only eight field goal attempts when the teams met in Toronto last weekend, in part because of a stagnant Raptors offence and in part because Sixers coach Nick Nurse knows Siakam better than any coach in the league.
The veteran Raptor managed 11 shots in Thursday’s game but never really got in a sustained groove.
He battled foul trouble — five personals and five baskets in 33 minutes — and couldn’t shake free of a swarming Philadelphia defence.
On the second night of a back-to-back for the Raptors, Barnes came out with energy. He was virtually unstoppable for Toronto, scoring 12 of the team’s first 17 points with a perfect 4-for-4 start to the game that included back-to-back three-pointers. It was exactly what the Raptors needed, but a tweaked ankle in the second quarter seemed to slow Barnes down a tad as Toronto ultimately fell 114-99 to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night.
Last season, Barnes averaged 4.1 points per game in first quarters or, for comparison’s sake, 15.8 points per 36 minutes. Against the 76ers, Barnes had 14 of his 24 points before the second quarter began. He flashed his improving three-point shot, stepping into a pair early, and spent part of the night defending Joel Embiid whenever Jakob Poeltl went to the bench.
Barnes’ hot start stuck the Raptors to an early lead and Toronto’s second unit did an impressive job keeping the game close in the first half. Malachi Flynn stripped Tobias Harris, one of two first-half steals, and nailed a three-pointer as part of an 11-0 run for Toronto.
But for the second time this season, Toronto had its hands full with Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. The two racked up 28 and 18 points, respectively, against the Raptors, connecting on shots from every level.
The problem for the Raptors proved to be its inconsistent bench that couldn’t keep its hot start to the game going. Flynn was stripped by Patrick Beverley and Kelly Oubre quickly nailed back-to-back threes against Toronto’s second unit, allowing the 76ers to climb ahead by 13 in the third.
Even with a tweaked ankle, his second this season, Barnes remained aggressive. He drew Embiid out of the paint and nailed a step-back jumper in the third quarter and then followed it up with a nine-foot floater to reach the 20-point mark for the fifth straight game, finishing the game with eight rebounds and eight assists as well.
Toronto climbed within 10 late in the fourth, first when Barnes found Siakam in transition and then again when Barnes called his own number in transition. But a costly turnover from Barnes trying to make one too many passes allowed Harris to score a transition dunk of his own to wrap things up.
Scottie Barnes was brilliant early, with 12 first quarter points, and finished with 24, along with eight rebounds and eight assists, but Pascal Siakam had a quiet 10 points and the bench did not perform well, other than Chris Boucher. Dennis Schroder added another 10 assists for the Raptors, along with 13 points.
Barnes scored or assisted on the first 15 Raptors points.
The Raptors had stunned the Milwaukee Bucks in Toronto 130-111 a night earlier, but got run over by Embiid, who made 12 free throws, one fewer than all of the Raptors combined, Tyrese Maxey (who had 18 points) and Tobias Harris and Kelly Oubre, who each had 23.
In this second reunion with former head coach Nick Nurse, the Raptors again struggled to keep Embiid off the free throw line. And though they did a better job on Maxey this time around, got burned by the supporting cast.
Philadelphia came in having only played three times, compared to five already for Toronto. The Sixers had oddly been off since beating Portland on Sunday, and the fresh legs showed at times. The Sixers ended the second quarter on a 16-6 run to lead 58-49.
To take nothing away from Green, it takes a unique personality to willingly accept a role that’s all about practice with no promise of playing time — something Ujiri and Webster think they have in Temple.
It’s how they’ve constructed the back end of the roster, with good guys willing to accept not playing without making a fuss.
To the Raptors thinking, veterans like Otto Porter Jr. and Thad Young are professional enough to stay in shape, be ready to play if injuries mount and they are needed. But their best value lies in their contracts for future transactions.
It’s not exactly fair — both have NBA skills, as does Temple — but it’s the way the business of the game works.
Individually, it’s unlikely either would bring back much in a trade, perhaps a second-round pick. But aggregating the salaries on their expiring contracts — Young at $8 million and Porter at $6.3 million — with another player could bring back a far more substantial piece, should Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster want to go that way later in the season.
As one high-ranking front office source said this week, the escalating salaries around the league are going to make it harder to match money in transactions and having a handful of deals at varying pay levels to use is just prudent business.
It is an opportunity that Winslow is ready to relish and exploit.
“I’m enjoying being with these guys, learning myself and helping them learn. It’s been a good challenge for me thus far,” he said.
Having dealt with pressure of expectations since he was a teen, Winslow stays grounded by keeping the focus on the task ahead and knowing what his long-term goal is, despite the challenges he’s faced.
“I know what type of player I am and I never lose sight of that, through injuries and through bad games and missed shots. I know what I’m capable of and I’m pretty confident in who I am. It’s hard to go out there and show it when you’re dealing with injuries but I know my place in this league,” he said.
For now, his place is about helping his team win, and Winslow says he is ready to lace them up and compete again. The 905 open the season next Friday against the Long Island Nets in New York, and their home opener is next Sunday against the College Park Skyhawks.
If he is able to play a significant role in helping Raptors 905 win consistently, Winslow has no doubt he will find his way back into the big league.
“Good things usually happen to teams that win, so we’ll just let winning take care of the rest,” he said.
“It’s just about having a good conversation with my teammates and the coaching staff, understanding what they want from me. I just have expectations and standards for myself, and every day I revisit those and think about them and journal about them and have an internal conversation with myself and go from there.”