A month into the NBA season and the Toronto Raptors offense is coming around.
Toronto's "O" ranks 2nd in league efficiency (110.2 RTG) and has been heating up. On Wednesday, the Raps out-rocketed the Rockets in H-Town, laying 129 points on them in what can be considered the first signature win of the season. They followed that up with another 125 against a decent Pelicans team. Southern hospitality is one thing, but the Raps looked beyond comfortable down there. Overall this season, assists are up to nearly 23 per game (Toronto averaged 18.5 apg in 16-17). In their last 5 games, the Dinos are scorching from beyond-the-arc, hitting treys at a near 45% clip. The sample size still isn't huge, but the signs of things coming together are there.
In the NBA, playing big-boy basketball needs to start with your best guys, and that's good news as of late: For starters, Kyle Lowry is starting to resemble Kyle Lowry. Lowry had a rough start to the year, but he's also making sense of a new system that's cut down on his bread and butter: pick-n-rolls. He's putting it together: Pushing the ball to teammates for good looks, spotting up for his own when he needs to and is generally playing with more tenacity. Kyle's averaging 19 ppg/8 apg in his last five games, and his FG% is up nearly 10 points from October to November. Importantly, he's getting to the line. In Toronto's first 11 games, Lowry went to the charity stripe a total of 17 times, compared to 21 trips in the Raptors last three games alone!
His BFF Demar DeRozan is doing what he does, getting to the line at a league-high rate of 9.1 times per game, and getting his buckets in the mid-range. He continues to grow as a passer, evidenced by his career-high 4.4 assists per game. Demar smoked the Rockets attempt to trap him, intelligently dropping 5 dimes in the 1st quarter alone, finding smart cuts from his teammates. His 3-point shooting is up in attempts and makes (0.9-for-2.9, on 30%), and while he'll never be a bomber, he's giving teams a reason to guard him out there. What's more promising is how some other Raptors are shooting the three:
CJ Miles - 42%
Serge Ibaka - 40% (His shooting is nice, but he needs to start rebounding)
OG Anunoby - 41.7%
Seriously though, how did OG drop to 23rd in the draft? The kid is barely a month into his pro career, not even fully recovered from his ACL injury and he's shooting the rock that well while posting the 2nd best offensive rating on the team. I'm not even going into the fact that he is built like a truck and can guard multiple positions on D. It's still early to draw conclusions, but if this draft was re-done, I can promise you there's no chance he makes it to 23. Just out of curiosity, why would GM's pass on him only because of his injury? Even if he was out until December, how does that change the long-term outlook for his potential? If he missed two months of his rookie season, would it make that big of a difference in the bigger picture? Unless they thought he wouldn't recover properly, I don't get it. Luckily for Raptors fans, Masai Ujiri is a shrewd cat.
On a sour note, Delon Wright's shoulder is mangled again, and it looks like he'll be out for a while. It's a shitty situation for Wright, who's been balling out at times. We can only hope this isn't a career hampering type thing, but it doesn't look great. His absence combined with Norm Powell's short-term injury will lead to changes in Casey's rotation. The Raps have been rolling 12-men deep at times, so trimming the rotation to 10 isn't that problematic. What seems likely is OG sticking with the starting unit to go alongside Kyle-Demar-Serge-JV. Fred VanVleet will see an uptick in minutes at backup PG, but it will be interesting to see what happens when Norm returns. To me, it makes sense to throw him in with the bench. He can guard the same players Wright can, and his ball handling will help spell FVV from having to continuously carry the load as the primary ball-handler. Norm's been inconsistent so far, so this might be a perfect opportunity to get him on track. The good thing is the Raps are blessed with depth and multiple ways of approaching their lineups based on the opponent.
In my opinion, Miles needs a bump in minutes. He's been a microwave off the bench, and the man has no conscious when tossing up threes. Benches need a player with that type of mentality, especially when shots are dropping. He's playing only 18 minutes a night, and I don't see why he can't play closer to 22-23, coinciding with some minutes with some starters. Conversely, we should also expect to see more minutes of Lowry + bench, especially if FVV is struggling on any given night.
There's no reason they can't develop further synchronization on offense as the season develops, especially as the schedule gets easier and players continue to gel.