RAPTOR BLOG: Five-Headed Monster From Starting Line-Up Looks Good

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It’s fair to take Toronto’s results in this week’s back-to-back game against San Antonio and Milwaukee with a grain of salt. Both opponents were missing their best players (DeJounte Murray and Giannis Antetokounmpo), but that doesn’t mean what the Raptors are currently doing is an illusion, either.

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Finally at full power (aside from a few unavailable bench pieces), Toronto shows the value of a balanced starting five filled with players who can go any night. It was Fred VanVleet against the Spurs, then Pascal Siakam took over against the Bucks.

Aside from a rare Scottie Barnes miss on Wednesday, each of the starters has managed at least 11 points in both games and four have scored at least 19 against Milwaukee.

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Minus a traditional center, Toronto forces its opponents to be on guard as every player is a threat to score from anywhere. Barnes is still the weak link behind the arc, but he’s punched enough as a rookie to at least be a threat. Meanwhile, Siakam has gone 4-6 of three in the last two games and looks extremely confident on his jumpers (as does OG Anunoby, who looks smoother than ever on offense).

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There are still a lot of defensive adjustments to be made, that’s for sure, but remember this group hasn’t had a lot of time to play or train together yet. If they can stay intact, expect the Raptors to continue improving and continuing to climb the standings (they had jumped to seventh place, a percentage point ahead of Charlotte, after the win and are at a hitting distance of the 6th and even the 5th, which would mean avoiding the play-in tournament).

Going without a cross and having three big men on the bench has worked so far because Nick Nurse replaced Khem Birch for Barnes fairly quickly in the first quarter. Later, he can bring in Chris Boucher and bring Barnes back, then he can swap Birch for Precious Achiuwa. It’s not traditional, but it worked pretty well from the start.

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They also left without a playmaker when VanVleet came to the bench. With forwards like Barnes and Siakam able to create for themselves and for others, Trent able to handle it and Anunoby looking more confident with the ball, it can work, especially against non-elite opponents. Barnes gets most of the back-up playmaker’s job, which is good. He grew up studying Magic Johnson after all.

It was interesting to hear interim Milwaukee head coach Darvin Ham call Jrue Holiday “the league’s best perimeter defenseman bar for pound.”

Ham pointed out that Holiday is watching anyone. He has a record, Holiday is as good as he can get and has proven it in both the regular season and the playoffs, but VanVleet is not far behind him. The size difference is probably what separates them. But “pound for pound” actually favors VanVleet. “Best perimeter defenseman in the league” is more apt for Holiday.

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IN THE STATISTICS BAG:

Toronto held the Bucks to 0 quick break points (0-6) and the Spurs to 4-13 shots on the quick break. It is not easy to do. But when you have three or four 6-8 or 6-9 players with long wingspans on the pitch plus Fred VanVleet, opponents are going to be forced to make mistakes at the break.

The Raptors’ excellent three-point back-to-back shooting propelled them to 17th in the league with three-point accuracy over the season’s placement near the bottom.

Toronto is also up to 10th in offensive efficiency.

OLD RAPTOR OF THE NIGHT:

Take your pick from Delon Wright (15 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists in a win), Jakob Poeltl (14 rebounds), DeAndre Bembry (5-5, 12 points, 5 rebounds and a solid defense) or Rudy Gay (18 points, 7 rebounds off the bench for Utah). Gay has been a very good pickup for Jazz.

CANADIAN BY NIGHT:

Andrew Wiggins.

The career year continues for Wiggins, who has become a key part of the NBA’s top team. Wiggins had 17 points, one block and a few steals in a rare Golden State loss to Dallas on the night of Dirk Nowitzki.

Wiggins was the team’s top scorer, which doesn’t happen often as the Warriors struggled so much on offense. Luckily Klay Thompson is about to help.

THREE STARS

1 Pascal Siakam

2 OG Anunoby

3 public holidays

THREE STARS AGAINST. SPURS

1 Fred Van Vleet

2 Scottie Barnes

3 Jakob Poeltl

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