Tough to glean much from Toronto Raptors' exhibition with Aussie club

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Drawing conclusions from any game early in the NBA pre-season is a fool’s errand.

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Drawing them against a team that comes from a league that is at least a step below the NBA level and probably more is that much more dangerous.

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The biggest question being asked around the arena Sunday night as the Raptors squared off against the NBL (Australia’s National Basketball League) Cairns Taipans was why bother?

The Raptors only have four exhibition games before the shooting starts for real and are still drawing conclusions about how best to go at that regular season.

With a new coach, an almost entirely new coaching staff, and both a new offence and defence from the Nick Nurse regime, Darko Rajakovic really needs to see his charges and how they handle his schemes against real NBA competition.

So, the answer to the original ‘Why bother’ question seems to come down to the league’s desire to expand its popularity beyond North America. Hosting games like these and taking their league on the road as part of the Global Games initiative serves that objective and each team takes its turn participating.

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The NBL is one of the more up-tempo league’s outside of the NBA known for its fast pace and it has produced its fair share of NBA talent. Cairns roster initially included three young players with realistic NBA aspirations, though injuries and illness cost the current roster two of those players.

All that is to say this wasn’t the ideal sort of game to prepare for the upcoming season.

Following are some observations from the Raptors rather one-sided 134-93 win at Scotiabank Arena.


The Raptors assisted on 34 of 48 made baskets. Quick ball movement has been a focus of Rajakovic’s first training camp with the team and it’s clear the message is getting through.

Pascal Siakam led all Raptors with five helpers in his almost 17 minutes of play.

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Turnovers, though, continue to be an issue, which is kind of expected when a team is asked to make quick decisions and move the ball as much as possible. Scottie Barnes, one of the better and more willing passers on this team, had a tough night in that regard. He was charged with five turnovers while being credited with four assists.

As a team, the Raptors turned it over 17 times in the game, which is big improvement on the 29 they had against Sacramento in the first pre-season game on the schedule.


Rajakovic wants to make this team as tough to defend as possible and to do so he wants all five on the floor to be a threat. In that regard, through two games, he’s getting exactly what he wants with no one player dominating the ball or even the shots.

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Among the five Raptors staters Sunday night (Chris Boucher was in for the under-the-weather Jacob Poeltl but otherwise the starting five has been the same both games) all had at least six shots, and no one took more than seven. Off the bench Javon Freeman-Liberty got off 11 shots and made seven in a Raptors-best 15-point night. Other than him, though, most of the reserves including Gary Trent Jr. with eight in a once-again team high 18 minutes, were around the team average for the night.

The feeling is once the regular season begins the ball is going to find the likes of Siakam and Barnes and O.G. Anunoby a little more, but we’ve probably seen the end of those Raptors days where one or two players is consistently taking ten or more shots more than the rest of the team.

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Siakam has been that player that dominates the shot chart for the Raptors in the past. Sunday night he led the starters in shots with those seven but also led the team in assists with five. However, in terms of changing his game, it appears Siakam is going to be the one who is asked to make the biggest change.

Both Siakam and his head coach keep pointing out how the ball eventually finds the best players on the floor so maybe once things head that way, once the rotations tighten up and routine sets in, that will be the case. But it’s probably still not wise to bet on a repeat of the 18.5 shots a night Siakam averaged a year ago.

Siakam says he’s fine with that.

“For me, all I want to do is do my best to help the team win and if that’s playing 40 minutes, that’s playing 40,” he said. “If it’s 30 or whatever the case may be, then that’s what I’m doing. I’m sure my legs will be happy, but I just want to go out and help.”

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As for the shot attempts going down, Siakam again doesn’t seem that concerned.

“No matter what we are doing, right now it’s just about making the right basketball play,” he said Sunday. “Again, I feel like I always do that anyways.”


Where did the Raptors find 18,141 people willing to shell out for pre-season basketball? Pre-season anything is a tough sell but a near full house turned out for a game against a visiting team from a lesser league? … How long does it take for a broken middle toe to heal? Otto Porter Jr. was once again inactive of Sunday’s game. Porter’s last NBA action was Nov 14 in a win over Detroit when he played 12 minutes. He has not been in the lineup for an actual game since.

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