(I watched the game live last night but was also flicking between baseball, football, and hockey all while having some Netflix series called Fauda — WATCH IT! — on in the background. As a result of my “TVADHD”, I re-watched the game this morning FREE OF DISTRACTIONS and below are my comments on the Raptors’ feast on Bull meat)
As the Toronto Raptors prepared for their season (and home) opener last night, predicting how the team would fair in their ongoing efforts to modernize — you know, GET WITH THE TIMES — was unclear, especially after a pre-season dedicated more to assessing possible rotations and keeping new tricks hidden.
Perhaps guided by the fact that one never gets a second chance at a first impression, the Raptors stormed out of the gate with the result a convincing 117-100 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls, days removed from fights at practice that left them without Bobby Portis (suspended by team) and Nikola Mirotic (broken face/concussion from Portis’ fist), were ungodly bad. Even when healthy, this version of the storied franchise will struggle to win most nights. It’s only one game, but I feel comfortable saying The Bulls Cursed Reign over the Raptors is in hiatus, effective immediately.
Although nothing more than a win in 1 of 82, this victory felt different. There was an electricity to it that want beyond the crowd noise and opening night frenzy.
The most encouraging aspect of the Raptors performance were the impacts made by players not named DeMar or Kyle. In years past, the Raptors offence went as those two went. When they struggled, the team buckled, failing to produce anything remotely resembling conference contending basketball.
But last night showed that this team — opponent not withstanding — can make some serious noise when faced with the figurative absence of their all-star backcourt. Lowry and DeRozan combined for just 23 points, with the latter member of the backcourt bromance struggling for most of the evening (2-9 FG, 0-0 3FG). Lowry faired better, producing 12 points and 9 assists, all resulting in a total of 23 points created (according to pbpstats.com). Lowry led in that category, with Delon Wright & DeRozan each tied for 2nd on the team with 12 points created.
DeRozan’s opening night struggles are ZERO CAUSE for panic. Despite his shooting struggles, he seemed a willing distributor and showed a higher degree of defensive engagement than I’ve come to expect in years passed (2 steals, 1 block and a defensive rating of 97). Of all the players on this year’s roster, DeRozan likely faces the longest learning curve in Modernization 101. In years passed, the offence catered to his iso-preferred tendencies, but the days of heavy reliance on that are over.
Not to worry, DeMar will be fine! — (same narrative goes for Serge, who also looked slightly out of sorts for most of the evening)
The biggest takeaways from last night’s win were the performances of Jonas and Norm, both starters despite some off-season speculation that suggested otherwise, and the collective impact made by the YOUNG, OH SO YOUNG second unit.
No, Kyle, no DeMar, no Jonas, no Norm, no Serge…A line-up of Miles, Wright, Poeltl, VanVleet, and Anunoby played a total of 11:45 together. The results were about as close to flawless as Casey could’ve hoped — +16, 33 points, 75% on 2ptFG, 40% on 3ptFG (including Miles’ 6-9 long distance barrage), and finally assist percentages of 44% & 100% on 2pt & 3pt field goals respectively.
I know I know, it’s only one game against an inferior opponent but Raptors fans have to be excited at the prospects of the second unit — remember all the talk about how Casey would find time to rest Kyle & Demar? Last night, he found himself trying to find an excuse to play them. A good problem to have if you ask me.
Delon Wright is going to be fun to watch all season. The pace and poise he plays with on both ends is incredible. And pairing him in with VanVleet, who earned the right to play with his strong off-season and camp, should produce some electric offence in the half-court and in transition as the season progresses.
Jonas was a beast! His rebounding numbers slightly inflated by his numerous missed put backs around the rim. Nonetheless, he was engaged and played with purpose on both sides of the ball — Who would’ve thought JV would lead the team in both field goal attempts, and usage?! (he actually fell a fraction short in the usage category, which was led by Miles’ 28.89%, JV at 27.62%). But he did lead the way with 16 FGA, 9 made.
Overall, last night served as an intriguing preview of what’s to come from this Raptors squad who appear committed to a new way of doing things. Ball movement on offence was crisp, swings leading to post ups and open threes, and an increased focus on spreading the wealth around to a cast of players who all possess the ability to contribute. Winning takes a village — ask any player, coach, GM, scout, etc…
Make no mistake, this team will need it’s two big guns to perform more often than not. But witnessing the collective potential to make-up for their off-nights suggests a shift in Raptor basketball.
And I likeeeeeee.
The Battle of Processes.
The Raptors host the Sixers Saturday @7:30pm EST.
Lead photo courtesy of Toronto Raptors twitter
stats courtesy of nba.com/basketballreference.com/ptpstats.com