Wednesday evening’s victory over the Indiana Pacers marked the top of the primary week of the 2021-22 Raptors season, and there has already been a lot to soak up. The Raptors’ return to Scotiabank Area for the primary time since February 28 of 2020 this season marks the start of a brand new period, an period with out the acquainted face of Kyle Lowry and one which appears as if it will likely be a enjoyable but additionally irritating watch at occasions.
There was so much to unpack over the previous week relating to how new personnel slot in and the way returning gamers have developed, and there will probably be much more to unpack over the approaching weeks.
With that stated, let’s attempt to unravel how this Raptors staff will work based mostly on the previous week of viewing. This text outlines 5 key takeaways from the previous week that will play a job all through the season.
Rebounding has transitioned from a weak spot to a power
Arguably, probably the most irritating facet of watching the Raptors final season was seeing them get outrebounded sport after sport. Having been blessed with Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Jonas Valanciunas, and even Bismack Biyombo at centre over the previous a number of years, it was powerful to look at a disengaged Aron Baynes and an undersized Chris Boucher run that place for many of final season. The staff completed third-last in rebounding final season, and it’s no surprise why.
Having acknowledged this subject, the Raptors’ entrance workplace appears to have completed an incredible job in turning this subject round rapidly by including lengthy, tenacious, and athletic gamers in each place.
At centre, Treasured Achiuwa is at present averaging over ten rebounds per sport, one thing no Raptor even got here near doing final season.
Whereas comparatively undersized at his place at 6’8”, Achiuwa makes use of his physicality and second-jump skill in addition to anybody else to maintain balls alive on the glass. And whereas his partnership with Khem Birch at centre might not be the flashiest tandem within the league, it’s mild years forward of what the Raptors have been presenting at that place for a lot of final season.
On the wings, the Raptors additionally supply large rebounding potential in Chris Boucher and Scottie Barnes. A fluid centre rotation of Achiuwa and Birch will enable Boucher to transition to energy ahead full time after enjoying as an emergency centre final season.
Whereas Boucher has struggled to search out his scoring contact early, the transfer to power-forward appears to have allowed him to contribute extra on the glass, as his rebounds per 100 possessions are at present up from 13.5 final season to fifteen.1 this season.
Barnes, in the meantime, has discovered no points becoming into Nick Nurse’s system. His vertical quickness and measurement at 6’9” enable him to protect and rebound in a number of positions. Not solely this, however his playmaking skill additionally permits him to provoke fastbreak offence when he rebounds by bringing the ball up the ground rapidly, as evident by the clip beneath.
SCOTTIE'S IN HIS BAG pic.twitter.com/bZOZt1gx2c
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 23, 2021
Lastly, some new Raptors guards ought to be capable to pitch in on the glass as properly. Working as a 6’9” level guard, Dalano Banton ought to be capable to outrebound most different level guards within the league. Moreover, Svi Mychailiuk’s nostril for the ball has led to him being considered one of 4 different Raptors with over ten rebounds per 100 possessions.
The twin-point guard lineup doesn’t work with Goran Dragić instead of Kyle Lowry
One of many staples of Raptors basketball courting again to the times of Dwane Casey at head coach is the usage of dual-point guard lineups.
The Raptors’ most-played lineup in every of the previous two seasons included two level guards in Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry. Past this, their second most-played lineup through the championship season additionally included VanVleet and Lowry, whereas the second most-played lineup in Casey’s ultimate season included VanVleet and Delon Wright.
What made VanVleet-Lowry lineups so viable was each gamers’ talents to protect taller gamers on defence and play as off-ball guards on offence. Anybody who has watched the Raptors all through the years would know of Lowry’s defensive capabilities within the put up and VanVleet’s sturdy palms, which helped him lead the league in deflections per sport final season.
This defence, together with each of their profession three-point percentages each being over 35%, allowed them to enhance one another properly on the ground collectively.
Sadly, the dual-point guard lineup doesn’t appear to have the identical impact with Dragić and VanVleet as Lowry and VanVleet. The truth is, within the 35 minutes that VanVleet and Dragić have shared the ground this season, their web ranking of -28 is the bottom of any Raptor duo with at the least 35 minutes collectively.
At 35 years of age, Dragić appears to be gradual and fragile each on defence and in transition. One of many benefits of a dual-point guard lineup ought to be the power to push the ball up the ground rapidly. Nonetheless, Dragić’s lack of tempo has all however ruined this idea for the Raptors. His play has been so uninspiring that head coach Nick Nurse slapped him with a DNP – coach’s determination in opposition to Indiana on Wednesday.
The one potential saving grace for a VanVleet-Dragić lineup is that, traditionally, Dragić is a fairly good three-point shooter (37% final season and 36% for his profession). He has struggled to search out his taking pictures contact this season, nonetheless, taking pictures a measly 22% from distance. If he can increase his three-point share again as much as the requirements of final season, it is perhaps value revisiting a VanVleet-Dragić lineup. In the meanwhile, although, I might stray away from these two sharing the ground.
I might argue that the one level guard duo that ought to share the ground for the Raptors, for now, is VanVleet and Dalano Banton. At 6’9”, Banton has the physique and athleticism to defend a number of positions, in addition to the ball-handling capabilities of some extent guard, permitting VanVleet to play off-ball. There already appears to be chemistry between the pair, evident within the clip beneath, the place VanVleet units a display for Banton to power a change, ultimately inflicting confusion amongst the Pacers defence, resulting in an open Banton three-pointer off of a give-and-go.
Rexdale's most interesting. pic.twitter.com/ArGld1J8Fp
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) October 28, 2021
To a *a lot* lesser extent, VanVleet and Banton may function as a backcourt the best way Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston did through the Golden State dynasty. This backcourt may see Banton working as the first ball-handler, utilizing his top over shorter defenders to see the ground, searching for VanVleet on off-ball screens for open three-pointers and cuts.
Offence should come from defence, at the least till Pascal Siakam returns
If one factor is evident from the primary 5 video games of the season, it’s that this Raptors staff is scrappy and energetic on defence and in transition, however uncooked (to place it frivolously) of their half-court offence. This mixture is clear by their fourth-ranked opponent factors per sport paired with their Twenty third-ranked factors per sport on offence.
Merely put, this staff doesn’t at present have a go-to, reliable scorer once they want a bucket. Many had hoped that OG Anunoby would take strides this season to be that participant, however he has begun this season with effectivity woes, taking pictures solely 38% from the sector. Adon alluded to this expectation after the slender loss to the Bulls, noting that the additional weight on his Anunoby’s shoulders could also be enjoying a component in his incapacity to take the following step.
Till Anunoby reveals that he’s able to taking the following step, The one participant on the Raptors’ roster that has proven they’re able to being a reliable, go-to choice is Pascal Siakam. So, till he comes again, the Raptors should stay scrappy on each ends of the ground to powerful out wins.
Greater than doubtless, their defensive skill paired with their lack of offensive skill imply that they might want to maintain opponents to 100 factors or much less to win video games constantly, as they did in opposition to Boston and Indiana.
Raptors rookies have gotten guts
It’s usually a troublesome job for rookies within the NBA to make an efficient and instant affect. Rookies wish to present their teaching employees, teammates, and followers the whole lot to love about their sport and can generally press to make an affect because of this. Scottie Barnes and Dalano Banton, nonetheless, have been in a position to make a right away affect with out exhibiting any nerves or frailties in any respect.
Let’s take a look at Barnes first. Wanting purely at his numbers, you possibly can argue that his instant affect has been too good to be true. The 17 factors per sport he’s scoring within the NBA proper now could be practically seven factors per sport greater than he scored in his solely yr in faculty, to not point out that he has additionally doubled his faculty rebounding output. Primarily based on these numbers alone, your conclusion is probably going both that he has simply gotten off to a scorching begin, has made drastic enhancements within the offseason, or suits this method actually, very well.
Even contemplating how good his numbers look, let’s overlook in regards to the numbers for now. There are just a few points of his early play that I believe are extra priceless than any of his numbers so far.
First, he hasn’t shied away from the second. It might be straightforward for a rookie to defer to veteran gamers reminiscent of VanVleet and Anunoby, however he has remained insistent on getting touches, carrying the ball up the ground, and being part of the offence.
Second, he’s stored his head up by struggles. This was most clear within the Indiana sport, the place Barnes opened up 1-5 from the sector earlier than scoring eight straight Raptor factors within the second quarter. It might be straightforward to cease taking pictures after getting off to a gradual begin, however Scottie is simply too assured to do this.
And eventually, his affect has come within the circulate of the sport. Once more, it may be straightforward to power performs as a rookie in an try and make a long-lasting first impression, so it’s really extra spectacular that he has been in a position to take the sport in stride and play at his consolation stage.
Additionally, let’s not overlook that he has already frolicked as the first defender on Jayson Tatum and Luka Dončić.
As for Banton, what higher option to settle in than by making a half-court shot inside 25 seconds of your NBA debut?
Dalano Banton has arrived pic.twitter.com/5kp8slI5hQ
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) October 21, 2021
Banton has proven guts purely by snatching at each alternative given to him. First, Towards Washington, Banton subbed right into a sport that appeared out of attain however took no second without any consideration. He completed with a team-high plus/minus of plus-eight, serving to the Raptors salvage a semi-respectable scoreline. And second, in opposition to Indiana, Banton took benefit of one other alternative with Dragić being benched by exhibiting the whole lot in his toolkit, scoring 10 factors in 16 minutes with a few three-pointers and three assists. Each Barnes’ and Banton’s contributions within the Indiana sport have been touched on by Sahal.
Because the forty sixth decide within the draft, early indicators level to Banton being a steal.
Gary Trent Jr. is a defensive menace
This takeaway is one I actually was not anticipating to see to begin the season.
Final season’s impression of Trent after his commerce deadline acquisition, for me anyway, was all about what he may do on offence. On that entrance, he comes off as a succesful shot-maker, however with what I can solely describe as tunnel imaginative and prescient on the offensive finish. That a lot hasn’t modified.
What has modified in Trent’s sport, nonetheless, is the depth to which he has performed with on defence. That is one thing that Adon touched on in his digs and don’t digs piece from yesterday, in addition to one thing that Louis has coated to a better extent.
I’ll briefly cowl what has made Trent such a greater defender this yr, however if you wish to know the complete extent of Trent’s defensive affect, I encourage you to learn each Louis’ and Adon’s items. The truth is, I encourage you to learn them anyway, however that’s irrelevant.
The gist of the matter is that Trent’s enchancment on defence has come from a mixture of particular person growth and tighter staff defence as a complete. On a person entrance, Nick Nurse has famous that he has proven extra of a presence in his on-ball protection this season, Whereas Louis has noticed that he has been preventing by screens with extra depth.
On a staff entrance, the additions of lengthy, versatile defenders reminiscent of Treasured Achiuwa and Scottie Barnes have allowed Trent to be extra aggressive on defence, understanding that there are succesful defenders behind him to again him up. This information has helped Trent climb as much as fourth in deflections per sport and fourth in steals per sport within the NBA.
Let’s not overlook…
The Raptors have solely performed 5 video games to this point, and 5 video games is a fairly small pattern measurement. A few of these takeaways could also be confirmed mistaken over the approaching weeks, and a few could grow to be extra obvious. All we will do is cling alongside for the trip.
Tip Chris Anderson
Toronto Raptors week-one takeaways originated on Raptors Republic.