Raptors recap: new beginnings

Courtesy Globe and Mail. Edited by Dashawn Stephens

The banner is up, the rings have been awarded, the NBA season is officially well under way.

Although it’s only been six games, the Raptors have displayed a remarkable level of talent.

Let’s dive into what we’ve seen through the first two weeks of the season.

Who are the Toronto Raptors?

As predicted, the Toronto Raptors have fully adopted the identity of a defensive team.

Through six games, the Raptors have produced a top 10 defence in the league.

They’ve shown that their defence can keep up with some of the faster pace offenses in the league.

No, Toronto hasn’t faced the likes of the Rockets or Lakers yet, however, they’ve shown that they can slow down young, athletic, fast -paced teams such as the Celtics, Pistons and Bucks.

The Raptors have also been a dominant paint defence.

Serge Ibaka, OG Annunoby, and Chris Boucher have been securing the rim, averaging a combined 4.2 blocks per game.

This defensive trio was on full display when the Raptors dominated the Bulls en route to a 108-84 victory.

The most important statistic the Raptors defence can be proud of is their allowed field goal (FG) percentage.

The Raptors defence is holding opposing offences to a FG percentage of 40.1 per cent, which is the best in the NBA.

What’s going on with Gasol?

At age 34, Marc Gasol is off to an extremely rough start this season.

He’s averaging 6.3 points per game, while shooting 31.7 per cent from the field, and 36.8 per cent from beyond the arc.

These are not the numbers that you want from your starting center.

How did we not see this coming?

Last season, Gasol played 79 out of 82 regular season games, and all 24 playoff games, before ending the season in mid-June.

This meant a shorter off-season. Gasol also represented his home country, Spain, in the FIBA World Cup, and took only one week of rest after the Championship parade.

Gasol played all eight games in the tournament, which concluded  on Sept 15.

In short, Gasol entered this season having already played 111 games in less than a year, with only a few weeks of rest.

He is playing fatigued, but for understandable reasons.

However, if he is going to be a starter and see his usage increase, he needs to display more consistency, confidence and decisiveness.

A major downside with Gasol’s struggles is that his trade stock is dropping tremendously.

If Nick Nurse can’t find a way to put Marc Gasol in a position to be successful, the Raptors just may end up losing him for nothing.

This is why they paid him

Coming into the season, all eyes were on Pascal Siakam to takeover the majority of the load left behind by Kawhi Leonard.

Last season, Leonard averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, and although it’s still early, Siakam has been up to it, averaging 26.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists

Notably, Siakam has added an outside shot to his arsenal of offensive tricks, shooting 42.4 per cent to begin the season.

He’s been aggressive pulling the trigger, even late in the shot clock or with a defender draped all over him.

Siakam’s new jumper means that teams can no longer guard him using their centre, and if this keeps up, he may become one of the league’s most unguardable offensive threats.

Siakam is definitely on the right track in terms of picking up the load and becoming the definitive leader of this Raptors team.

It will be entertaining to watch him continue to ascend throughout the season, as well as match up with some of the best in the game. 

There’s no doubt Masai Ujiri made the right investment. Siakam is going to be something more than just special.

Needing more experience

The Raptors are currently a solid basketball team.

They thrive on the defensive side of the ball, they have multiple players who can give you at least 20 a night, and a bench that can provide solid minutes.

The Raptors can compete, but can they compete against the league’s “elite” teams?

Toronto is loaded with players — Siakam included — who are still growing.

Meanwhile, these “elite” teams are loaded with players who have already matured and are now chasing rings.

In their previous losses to Boston and Milwaukee, this was on full display; the Raptors struggled down the stretch against far more experienced and mature teams.

Toronto’s biggest challenges are still ahead of them, as they will face the Lakers, Clippers, and Trail Blazers on an upcoming road trip.

They will be major tests for the team, and it will be interesting to see how they continue to grow and find their rhythm in this young season.


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