Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors Need a “Dog”

A discussion on "dogs" and the Toronto Raptors' recent struggles.

I hate to admit it, but Pat Beverley is living rent-free in my head. Not for the reasons he might boast, but there he lives nonetheless.

Prior to the start of the season, Pat Bev was on his own podcast, The Pat Bev Podcast with Rone, discussing a number of NBA teams. The Toronto Raptors came up and Pat Bev quickly dismissed their potential due to a lack of “dogs” on their team.

The comment caused a hubbub for a hot second and fizzled. No one took Pat Bev all that seriously. Especially, not the Raptors (except maybe as motivation). When asked about it, Dennis Schröder discounted it, wisely revealing the intent of Pat Bev’s comments.

Dennis was right. That’s just Pat Bev being Pat Bev. Because being Pat Bev is all part of the schtick. A wrestling persona. A money-maker. A brand.

Pat Bev has made a living by marketing himself as a “dog”. Pat Bev the hard-nosed, tireless motherfucker who backs down from no one. Pat Bev the lockdown defender. Pat Bev the irritant. Pat Bev the leader. Pat Bev the tough son-of-a-gun. Pat Bev, who turns your bunch of softies into a group of battle-tested warriors.

Or, so the stories go.

A genius strategy, really. Pat Bev’s career wasn’t really going anywhere. What better way to prolong it with a rebirth. Every championship team has had some type of a “dog” on their team. You want to be a champion? You need a “dog”. You need a “dog”? You need Pat Bev.

As Pat Bev has aged and his on-court abilities dissipated, the smack-talking and arrogance compensated. What better way to reaffirm “dog” status by othering non-“dogs”. Thus, calling out the Toronto Raptors. Twice.

https://twitter.com/patbev21/status/1720253480533721585

Still, Pat Bev’s comments percolated. The more I’ve watched this team, the more I’ve wondered myself: do the Raptors lack a “dog” and, if so, are they in need of one?

A Dog(s)

What the Hell is a “dog” anyway? Surely, not Pat Bev.

“Dogs” is one of those no-one-knows-but-everyone-knows kind of terms. It’s very indefinable because it can mean a variety of things. Particularly so, team to team.

One team’s “dog” is another’s “hot-head” [Re: Draymond Green] or “distraction” [Re: Morris twins] or “nepotistic bench filler” [Re: Thanasis Antetokounmpo]. Follow Dennis Rodman’s career from Detroit to San Antonio to Chicago to see what I mean.

To me, being a “dog” can mean two things: being a Leader or being a Meddler.

Leaders

The Leader plays a clear role. They’re the platoon sergeant. The non-commissioned officer busting your ass and cursing your ancestry. They are unforgiving yet wise, sensible, and instructive. Leaders are resented at times, but, ultimately, loved with utmost respect and admiration.

The Leader is, typically, vocal and demonstrative. Sometimes to a fault. They’re also deferential and modest. They demand the ball not of their own desires, but the greater good’s. They squawk, direct, exemplify, admonish, encourage, and find the most in you.

Leaders are the motor and the oil. The infrastructure and philosophy. The standard and exemplar – in the offseason, in training, in practice, in game. Leaders recognize, take under their wing, teach hard lessons, and mentor.

The Leader is not necessarily the best player on the floor, but the one directing in the most butt-clenching moments. When shit hits the fan, they’re looked upon. Big shots and optimal passes and the exact right play in the exact right moment come their way. They’re there to tell everyone else that everything will be okay no matter what happens. I got this.

Examples: Kyle Lowry, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Draymond Green (pre-Poole Punch), Sam Cassell, Michael Jordan (depending who you ask), and Kobe Bryant (depending who you ask).

Meddlers

The Meddler is a more complex character. They take the shape and form of many archetypes – sometimes, simultaneously. They can be the leader. They can be the rogue. The soldier. The pest. The mouth. The instigator. The stopper. The enforcer. The problem – for everyone. The killer.

The Meddler can be a one-trick pony. Deeply flawed with a super elite skill. A slick distributor. A rebounding gobbler. A steals and blocks dynamo. A screen-setting master. An off-ball ghoul. The lockdown defender. The extra passer and dagger hitter. You know what you’re gonna get and you’re getting it whether you want it or not guy. They’re quite often the one no one wants to play against, but a beloved teammate.

Most importantly, they don’t back down. No one too big, too athletic, too pompous, too renown intimidates them. It’s irrelevant. Superfluous to their purpose and function. Meddlers are automatons, doing what they do no matter the stakes or situation. Which is not always a good thing.

Their emotion too can be uninhibited. A blazing iron brand thrust into the behinds of unsuspecting cattle on a lazy March Tuesday evening game. Or an accidentally ignited firework amidst the combustible moments of a tight Playoff elimination game. Once unleashed they are unleashable. A chaos endangering everyone even themselves.

The Meddler brings an edge, a rigour, a strength, a resolve, an inextinguishable flame. They are entropy teams and teammates endure the way they must in the moment it is most needed. Which proves to not always be so. (Most famously, of recent, Dillon Brooks being Dillon Brooks.)

Examples: Dennis Rodman, Draymond Green, Rasheed Wallace, Bill Laimbeer, Charles Oakley, Bruce Bowen, Tony Allen, Dillon Brooks, Raja Bell, Rajon Rondo, Matt Barnes, Metta World Peace, Reggie Evans, Jerome ‘Junkyard Dog’ Williams, Marcus Smart, Gary Payton, Kevin Garnett.

Most importantly, with both the Leader and the Meddler, is attitude. They are unflinching. Unperturbed by high-intensity moments – the clutch or altercations – mostly. Their energy pervades teams’ essences. They calcify the spine of winning teams. Embolden inexperienced ones. And embody the spirt of Champions. No easy outs with an established Leader or freed Meddler.

When all is grim, both can singlehandedly reverse momentum. Stem its tide, exploit its weaknesses, and capture its source. They can be the shining white knight or the hole-digging grunt. Leading the charge and doing the dirty work.

Of course, none of this is all that measurable. There are some counting statistics. Some analytics can tell you their effect on winning. There are so many more intangibles – leadership, intimidation, support, activation, resilience, etc. – that few not intimately connected to these players can ever know their true impact.

Toronto Raptor Struggles

The Raptors border on the bleak. They are 6-10 in their last sixteen with few monumental wins and many unexpected losses. The spiraling of late infectious. Fans feeling what the whole of the roster seems to experience in bouts of adversity: forgone doom.

The Raptors are a single entity. Their energy ebbing and flowing in unison: flourishing from empirical success; crumbling in its dearth. When darkness enshrouds this team, there is no one – by word or by action – bringing the light. No one to stop misery or engender hope. A common characteristic of young or transitioning teams.

Early in the season, the Raptors avoided catastrophes. Tumbling inexplicably to teams like San Antonio and Washington only to eke wins out in dramatic fashion – they’re 24th in first half scoring and 12th in second half scoring. That demands resolve and resilience. No question.

It still left us wondering as to why they floundered early at all. Particularly with good wins sprinkled throughout. No real answer was more pronounced than any other. Just the same recipe of poor shooting, imbalanced roster, impoverished bench, gelatinous half-court sets and the variance that accompanies it all. The Raptors fought their usual uphill battles. Breaking even, more or less.

But then the losses began to mount. In all sorts of bad varieties: lethargic home losses on rest; no showings against the League’s worst; dogfights with undermanned opponents; sudden collapses.

The lack of discipline and focus inexcusably present in the first half of games began to pervade the latter parts too. Pinnacled by the loss to the Utah Jazz’s depth chart last Saturday.

Quarters were suddenly littered with simple mistakes. Sloppy rotations. Bad transition defence (on misses and makes[!]). Rebounding lapses. Silly turnovers.

Toronto Raptor Dog(s)?

I stop there to concede that losing and winning is attributable to a thousand things. And that those thousand things are all interconnected. No single source or single player or single change will transform everything. No number of dogs can overcome systemic issues.

And, yet, there again, is Pat Bev and the veracity of his stupid comment lingering in my mind. That Toronto lacks a “dog”.

The Raptors have no true on-court leader. No one to demand the ball and implement orders. No one to tell Gary he’s dribbling too much or O.G. to stop hesitating or for the team to slow down or speed up. There’s no one to make sure Pascal and Scottie get the ball when possessions meander by without either involved. No one, when the games slipping through their fingers like cupped water to stymy the futility, mitigate the panic, and lift hung heads.

This team has a talent hierarchy. Pascal and Scottie above everyone else. Skill does not rally troops. Pascal leads by-doing. Tempered and determined, mostly silent. And Scottie is precocious. Fiery and independent, not yet ready to be El Commandante.

After that, the veterans rarely play and the rest are all coincidentally mild-mannered. O.G. speaks with his eyes and athleticism; Gary his swagger; Pöltl his dutifulness; Boucher and Precious their hustle. Dennis is both new to the roster and lacks a bird’s eye view as a scorer first. Too often he is lost in the game’s tempo or goes silent when direction is needed.

Not since Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, and Marc Gasol were there leaders aplenty for this team. Kyle the vaunted General both on and off the floor. Marc and Serge experienced, talented veterans looked upon for measure in the most high-leverage moments.

There is no Meddler on this team either. No one to amp up the energy. No one to create chaos. No one to let Pat Bev know they’re a “dog”. No one to be [legally] violent and gritty and pugnacious. No one to make others wince bracing for impact. To screen with impunity (this should [#2] be Precious Achiuwa). No one to foil plans, to scold, to fire up, to inspire, to emulate.

They’re not all muted. Some Raptors resemble certain meddlesome traits. Scottie Barnes – especially more recently – for large segments of the game marauds end-to-end yelling and sprinting and rejecting and dunking and lobbing like a voracious Viking ship ravaging coast lines. He very likely may become the Raptors dog of the future.

Until then, Chris Boucher is closest. A tireless, self-starting, elite offensive rebounder (he draws rebounding fouls like I’ve never seen) who can block shots at-rim, at-three-point-line and everywhere in between.

Boucher, unfortunately, lacks a ferocity to his game. Perhaps, it’s his slender frame or his cool demeanour. There’s no meanness to his hard work. Nor is he consistently productive. A lack of discipline at both sides of the floor can render him useless for swathes of minutes.

O.G. Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa are the other candidates. O.G. an All-NBA defender; Precious, with more consistency, a future one. But both are chill as pudding. Though, O.G. is a very underrated belligerent.

Still, he and Precious are mostly unbothered and incombustible. Reactive mostly, if at all. It’s laudable: to be so even-keeled at the centre of high temperature environments. It’s not what the Raptors need. They need both to be the contemptuous nuisances like other defenders – Brooks, Alex Caruso, Jose Alvarado, Jimmy Butler, and others – in the league. Particularly, for this Raptors team who is as tepid as an unused bath tub.

Moving Forward

The question of a “dog” might sound superfluous if this team is just, ultimately, not that good. Not all teams necessarily need them either. Systems, talent, infrastructure, and legendary coaches can fill the void. The Raptors were thought to have all of the above. Now, possibly none.

They do, however, have a perennial All-Star and a budding Superstar. To this point, they’ve mishandled the complementary pieces. Whatever direction Toronto chooses moving forward, leadership and toughness – along with SHOOTING PLEASE(!) – will need to be at the forefront of the rebuild or retool.

A “dog” or two would help.