NBA Every day: Fixing The Toronto Raptors
Basketball Insiders continues its annual Fixing collection by looking at groups across the league. Thus far, now we have lined the Washington Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves. Right now, we’ll be trying on the Toronto Raptors, who’re calling Tampa Bay dwelling this season.
With the primary three weeks of the 2020-21 NBA common season within the books, groups are nonetheless attempting to get a grasp on how all of their items match collectively. Whereas many groups have struggled out of the gate, the Raptors seem like caught within the mud.
It was lower than two years in the past that Toronto sat on prime of the basketball world, capturing an NBA Finals championship over the Golden State Warriors. All the pieces gave the impression to be going their means, from their rookie head coach to Kawhi Leonard’s epic bounce across the rim towards the Philadelphia 76ers. Nevertheless it has all gone south – fairly actually – since they entered the “bubble” in Orlando.
So, what have the Raptors achieved proper or mistaken this season, and the place do they go from right here?
Not a lot has gone proper for the Raptors this season, however they do have a number of vivid spots to acknowledge – and a type of is the emergence of Chris Boucher. The previous Oregon Duck celebrated his 28th birthday on Monday and has performed very nicely this season. He had a monster sport towards the San Antonio Spurs, scoring 22 factors, with 10 rebounds and 7 blocks. However these numbers don’t actually inform the story of his worth to this staff.
The one constructive lineups per 100 possessions for the Raptors are those with Boucher in it. He’s an elite rim protector, a flexible defender and might knock down the occasional three-pointer. Boucher shines within the paint as opposing groups shoot 15.1 p.c worse across the rim when he’s on the ground.
One other facet that appears to be working for Nick Nurse’s staff is the tradition and management they’ve displayed. Third quarters have been the Achilles’ heel for this staff, however they don’t merely wave the white flag. They at all times struggle and claw their means again late in video games, which is a double-edged sword. Nice that they’ve the resolve and energy to come back again, however placing themselves in that scenario and working out of gasoline within the ultimate minutes has clearly harm them.
Elsewhere, Fred VanVleet signed a four-year, $85 million contract this offseason. Usually there might be some regression after a participant cashes in on a brand new deal, however Regular Freddy has been taking pictures the ball very nicely this season. VanVleet’s scoring is up almost 5 factors per sport whereas his general area aim share is up about 5 p.c as nicely. Past that, the guard remains to be taking pictures 40 p.c from deep and ending higher on the rim, but it surely hasn’t translated to wins.
What Isn’t Working?
The listing is lengthy, but it surely begins with their protection. This has been the staple for Toronto in the previous few seasons, nevertheless, at present, it’s nonexistent. By their first 9 video games, the Raptors rank 18th in defensive ranking, 18th in offensive ranking and are 18th in web ranking. Final yr, Toronto gave up the bottom three-point taking pictures share to their opponents; up to now this marketing campaign, groups are taking pictures over 40 p.c from past the arc towards them. Even when groups miss photographs, they will’t safe the rebound – worse, their main rebounder in three of the primary six video games was both Kyle Lowry or VanVleet.
A big a part of the rebounding drawback eludes to arguably their greatest difficulty – the frontcourt. The losses of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka have weighed heavy on this staff. Their replacements, Aron Baynes and Alex Len, have been of little to no assist. Baynes is a -18.three in staff level differential, which is well the worst amongst their starters. Much more troubling, he has not been flattening his open three-point photographs, making simply three of his 16 makes an attempt.
Sliding Baynes to the second unit may not be the easy repair and, general, their bench as an entire has been atrocious. Toronto is reluctant to rely upon unproven gamers like Matt Thomas, Malachi Flynn, Stanley Johnson and Terence Davis to play bigger roles. Norman Powell has not proven any development and should be out of form. As a unit, they’re additionally fouling an excessive amount of and solely the Wizards and Warriors have dedicated extra fouls this season.
Offensively, the Raptors have struggled to create house of their transition sport, part of the sport the place they’ve historically thrived. Their half-court offense has been uncovered, particularly when Lowry is on the bench. Toronto’s factors per 100 possessions is round 108 with Lowry on the ground however crumbles to only 81.four with him off. VanVleet is a good passer in relation to discovering the open man, however his incapacity to make pocket passes or lobs within the pick-and-roll has crippled their offense.
One ultimate difficulty is the largest elephant within the room: Pascal Siakam merely hasn’t been the identical participant because the league stoppage final March. After incomes the NBA’s Most Improved Participant award and rising as a key piece on a championship-winning staff, Siakam has been a shell of himself recently. His taking pictures share dropped six p.c within the playoffs and he was scoring six factors much less per sport.
Many groups have put smaller defenders on Siakam to negate his fast pace benefits – however he must be extra of a playmaker like Gasol was. That is very true when Lowry is just not on the ground. Getting him alternatives in transition, the place he has at all times excelled, shall be key for Toronto’s turnaround.
What Wants To Change?
When you hear intently, you’ll be able to hear the echoes of Raptors followers calling for Nurse to start out Boucher. He seems to be the flame that might ignite this staff and get them out of their funk. They may want his manufacturing on offense and, extra importantly, his defensive prowess as they enter a tricky stretch of their schedule. Over their subsequent eight video games, they’ll face the Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and have two video games every towards the Charlotte Hornets, Miami HEAT and Indiana Pacers.
Their subsequent 5 video games are at dwelling however that may be a relative time period contemplating their momentary dwelling in Florida.
One other lineup change that Nurse might think about is to play extra small ball. They’re already a poor rebounding staff, so enjoying OG Anunoby on the 4 and Siakam on the 5 would possibly resurrect their transition sport. Discovering the best match at small ahead might be an actual job, contemplating the dearth of measurement they’ve already with Lowry and VanVleet on the guard positions. Nonetheless, if issues don’t enhance quickly, this might be one thing value attempting.
Focus Space: Trades/Free Brokers
This can be very doubtless that this roster as at present constructed won’t be the identical roster by the top of the season, particularly if their slide continues. The commerce deadline looms on Mar. 25 and there are nonetheless some proficient free brokers on the lookout for a house. If now we have realized something in recent times, it’s that Masai Ujiri is just not afraid to shake up the roster with a deal.
Would it not be worthwhile to usher in a shooter like Kyle Korver to unfold the ground? He’s a stable veteran that is aware of his function and would slot in nicely with the Raptors’ tradition. One other title to think about is Shabazz Napier. After all, Nurse is used to working with smaller guards that excel in the best function. Having been a backup for many of his profession, Napier could be a unbelievable level guard off the bench along with his pace and court docket imaginative and prescient producing offense.
If Toronto explores commerce situations, there are a number of names that come to thoughts. Patty Mills might be a low-cost choice at backup level guard, ought to the Spurs be keen to let him go. Myles Turner’s title has been in commerce talks for a while, however he’s at present swatting a league-leading 4 blocks per sport. Nate Bjorkgren, the brand new head coach of the Pacers, was an assistant with the Raptors and could also be eager on a deal that lands him a few of his former gamers. A deal like that might enhance their frontcourt if that’s what they wish to tackle.
In the event that they wish to infuse some offense and artistic playmaking on their bench unit, the Raptors ought to make a name to the Pistons. Bringing in a man like Derrick Rose makes nearly an excessive amount of sense, instantly elevating the second unit with scoring and shot creation – plus, Toronto in all probability wouldn’t have to surrender any priceless belongings. A deal involving Patrick McCaw, Davis and a few second-round draft picks would possibly suffice the rebuilding Pistons, who have already got their level guard of the longer term in rookie Killian Hayes.
The Raptors haven’t missed the playoffs since 2013 – however they at present have a 2-Eight report, tied with Detroit for the worst within the league. Whereas it’s not time to hit the panic button simply but, Toronto followers must be ready to interrupt the glass, in case of emergency.