RAPTORS BLOG: On Anunoby’s brilliance, Trent’s debut, Dieng’s fit and ties to Ujiri and mre


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The new-look Raptors gave one of the NBA’s best teams, the Phoenix Suns, a game on Friday night, but their glaring hole at centre, lack of familiarity and effort lapses defensively did them in.

The Raptors fought back and played a strong fourth quarter, finally bearing down defensively, and it probably would have been enough against a lot of teams. Just not the NBA’s third-best squad.

Toronto’s now 23rd in the standings and could badly use a high-lottery pick, but bad news, to those fans of the long-dormant tank nation: That’s not happening (assuming there aren’t any further injury or COVID-related absences, that is). They’re too good, too proud. But it’s time for the front office to get them some help because Chris Boucher has fallen back to earth in a major way lately (and isn’t a true centre anyway) and Aron Baynes remains a massive disappointment. Paging the recently bought out Gorgui Dieng! Dieng is a talented all-around big man who is shooting a career-best 48% from three-point land this season. He’s also a friend of Masai Ujiri, having attended past Giants of Africa events with that organization’s boss. With the bigger names eying the contenders and big markets, a guy like Dieng, secretly just as effective as some of those names, would be a nice add for the Raptors.

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Anyway, what a performance by fill-in, undersized centre OG Anunoby (along with Pascal Siakam). Anunoby recently slowed down MVP favourite Nikola Jokic and had to go up against behemoth Deandre Ayton at times. Anunoby guarded nearly every position and if he doesn’t make the all-defensive first team (or second team at worst), a lot of people will have screwed up.

“I told you all this before, the only person he can’t guard is me,” joked Fred VanVleet afterward (and VanVleet has his own case to make one of those teams). “For OG to keep making steps and growing and being the player that everybody believes him to be, and that he believes he can be. Sky’s the limit. He’s going to be as good as he wants to be, and we need him to keep doing it. It’s a great luxury to have a guy like that who can guard Jokic, Ayton, Booker, whoever. You name it. OG’s been great for us.”

The Raptors should be encouraged at what Anunoby has shown this season. It might be the brightest light of this tough season. Siakam’s recent resurgence is good too. When he’s aggressive, attacking inside and only taking wide open three-pointers and not forcing anything he’s an all-star level player. Going at Ayton isn’t easy — sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but the Raptors need this Siakam.

Malachi Flynn’s best minutes of his rookie season early on were good to see too. They’re counting on Flynn to grow into a rotation player as soon as next season.

Gary Trent Jr. looked intriguing too. He put the ball on the floor more than he did usually in Portland and was better defensively than some billed him to be (advanced stats don’t tell the whole story and should always be combined with the eye test). He’s active and gets after it. The Raptors want him to expand his offensive game and will let him do so. Again, Trent’s a nice pickup for a really solid player in Norman Powell who is about to get paid in full and is a lot older and has had some injury issues. That deal made sense for everyone.

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Don’t forget that it wasn’t that long ago that Rodney Hood was billed as a big pickup by the Cleveland Cavaliers when they were still a contender. His Achilles injury will obviously impact his agility and explosiveness, but he was always a shooter first anyway and that will hold up. Rudy Gay has done just fine after suffering the same injury, though Gay has more bulk to morph into a power forward than Hood.

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1 — OG Anunoby (Just a masterclass in defensive brilliance).

2 — Deandre Ayton (Set early tone and dominated pivotal third).

3 — Pascal Siakam (8-for-11 inside the arc, aggressive, effective)