For years the Raptors had a tough time in Texas, dropping countless games to strong San Antonio, Dallas and Houston squads. But lately things have shifted and the team is coming off one of its most impressive two-game runs in the Lone Star State ever.
There was a Scottie Barnes-driven 22-point comeback against San Antonio on Sunday. Then, following two days off, scored at will against a Dallas team that had been 6-1 and playing extremely well.
It’s still hard to get a handle on these Raptors, but if Pascal Siakam is back, as he was in Dallas, Toronto will win a lot of games because the defence is outstanding.
OG Anunoby is as good as it gets as a defender, Barnes has made a leap as a sort of rover, causing havoc all over the court and Siakam seems more engaged defensively. Jakob Poeltl is a strong interior defender and eventually they’ll get help from Precious Achiuwa and Christian Koloko. Malachi Flynn has been disruptive and Otto Porter, is big and smart, a good combo when it comes to defence.
Siakam got what he wanted offensively against Dallas and even though Barnes had a quiet offensive night, he was everywhere and still stuffed the scoresheet. There’s no question the two can co-exist defensively, and we believe they can click offensively too, but probably not when non-shooter Jakob Poeltl is on the court (which is probably why we’ll keep seeing Porter finishing games with Barnes filling in at centre). Against Dallas, Toronto had its most effective offensive game in the half-court.
One interesting thing we’ve been tracking here at the Raptors blog:
The numbers for the Raptors against teams that guard the interior well and those that don’t are stark.
The Raptors shot 42% in the paint and 40% on two-point attempts against Rudy Gobert and Minnesota to open the season, they went just 39.5%/38.2% against Philadelphia in the first meeting, but 56.8%/54.9% in the rematch, 51% against Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs.
Against donut teams (those with a big hole in the middle), the Raptors have shot 65% in the paint (against Chicago) and 63% from two. They were even better against Dallas, scoring on two-third of their paint attempts and 60% of their two-point shots overall. They also shot 52% inside against Portland.
We are throwing out the Milwaukee game (77% in the paint, 68% from two) because the Bucks didn’t show up for that one and didn’t know how to play defence then and had to switch up their system after that.
What will happen in the next week? Well, the Raptors get a really big Boston team (Kristaps Porzingis, Al Hereford, etc., plus lots of big guards and strong wings), followed by a Washington team that stinks, but does boast some shot-blocking (ninth in blocks per game) and then there are the revamped Bucks and the Celtics again. It will be interesting to see how Toronto finishes inside in those games.
AROUND THE RIM
-The Raptors sit third-last in the NBA in pace. Monday’s opponent, Washington, plays at the fastest pace. Something’s got to give.
-Something in huge need of work: Toronto is shooting a horrific 69% from the free throw line, the worst in the NBA (maybe it’s not so bad, the defending champion Denver Nuggets sit second last). And that Toronto number includes hitting 92% against Milwaukee. Take that game away and the numbers are shockingly bad.
-Friend of the space Blake Murphy brought to my attention that Barnes has blocked six three-pointers so far, twice as many as Wembanyama, who has the second-most of these types of blocks. Last year the league leader (Bol Bol) had 16 for the whole season. Chris Boucher tied for second last year with 14 with Bruce Brown. Barnes and Anunoby each blocked nine, Siakam eight, which all ranked in the Top 11. These Raptors are not easy to launch threes against.
-Apropos of nothing, where Toronto’s opponents so far rank defensively:
30 – San Antonio W
25 – Milwaukee W
23 – Dallas W
21 – Chicago L
11 – Portland L
5- Philadelphia L, L
1 – Minnesota W
THREE STARS VS. DALLAS
1 Pascal Siakam
2 Luka Doncic
3 OG Anunoby
THREE STARS VS. SAN ANTONIO
1 Scottie Barnes
2 OG Anunoby
3 Victor Wembanyama