It hasn’t been a great start to the season for the Toronto Raptors.
Not only are the Raptors one of four teams still searching for their first win of the season, they made the bad kind of history in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, becoming the first team in the last 20 seasons to start a season 0-3 and blow a double-digit lead in all three games.
The Raptors are the only team in the last 20 seasons to start 0-3, blowing a double-digit lead in all 3 games.
– ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 30, 2020
How concerned should the Raptors be with their slow start?
NBA.com’s Scott Rafferty and Gilbert McGregor take the temperature of some of the biggest issues that have plagued the Raptors through three games.
The Raptors are scoring at a rate of 97.8 points per 100 possessions, ranking them 30th in the league in offensive efficiency.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I’m somewhat concerned.
I have faith that Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet will be better than they have been to start the season – or more consistent, I guess is the better way of putting it – but I underestimated how replaceable Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka were, particularly on offence. Not only do the Raptors miss their 3-point shooting, they miss Gasol’s passing and Ibaka’s ability to fill it up.
I have no doubt that the Raptors can piece together a good enough offence to be competitive this season without Gasol and Ibaka, but it puts a lot more pressure on Siakam, Powell, Anunoby and VanVleet to step up, which they haven’t yet.
Something that is worth monitoring: Toronto is averaging 13.7 free throw attempts per game so far this season, the lowest rate in the league. (For context, Trae Young is averaging 15.3 free throw attempts per game all by himself right now). That’s got to change for the Raptors to improve offensively.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I’m somewhat concerned.
While I don’t think Toronto will be at the bottom of the league for the entirety of the season, I do worry about the ways in which the team will improve its offence this season.
The majority of my concern surrounds just how much of a load that Kyle Lowry, Siakam, Powell, Anunoby and VanVleet will be asked to carry this season. I think last year’s offence often worked like a well-oiled machine because it was a sum of all its parts.
In those moments where the offence could flounder, it was Ibaka or Powell coming off the bench to make sure things didn’t go awry. The importance of Gasol’s playmaking ability cannot go unmentioned, either.
It’s still early, but it feels like this season, even more is required of the 35-year-old Lowry, which is quite the ask. When everyone else steps up and newer guys figure out their roles, things will get better. How much better? That remains to be seen.
Pascal Siakam’s shooting
Siakam is shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range through four games.
Rafferty: I’m not very concerned.
It’s a little weird to say that considering how bad his numbers are, but I’ve been mostly encouraged by Siakam’s play. I liked the aggression he played with against the New Orleans Pelicans, particularly in the first half, and I was impressed by some of the passes he made against the San Antonio Spurs.
The 76ers loss was the first time where I felt like Siakam was pressing and was unable to get to his spots on offence, bringing back memories of last season’s series with the Boston Celtics. There are certainly things he needs to get better at – a big one is getting to the line, as Siakam has attempted only six free throws through three games – but I still think there’s been more good than bad with Siakam to start the season.
McGregor: I’m concerned.
Look, I get it, Siakam’s worst game statistically was the product of his facing an All-Defensive Team member in Ben Simmons, a guy that’s supposed to be able to make things difficult.
I’m concerned because Siakam’s stats become much worse in the second half, where he’s shooting 36.4% through three games. As TSN’s Josh Lewenberg pointed out, it’s not a coincidence that Siakam’s poor performances late in games have coincided with the team’s late-game troubles.
It’s a continuation of issues we saw during the NBA Restart, which, again, will have me concerned until proven otherwise. He’s made leaps before, so I have plenty of reason to believe that he can snap out of it, it’s just a matter of if he will.
The second unit
Toronto’s bench has scored 84 points, ranking them 27th in the league.
Rafferty: I’m concerned.
The Raptors had a low scoring bench last season, but that’s because Powell and Ibaka ended up starting so much because of injuries to the likes of Lowry, VanVleet, Siakam and Gasol. If Powell can’t get back to the player he was last season, Toronto’s second unit is going to struggle.
In saying that, Chris Boucher has been a nice surprise. He struggled against the 76ers, but that was a tough matchup for him, which is probably why he played only four minutes. He was awesome against the Spurs, posting 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks, and he was solid against the Pelicans, scoring 12 points in 14 minutes.
If Boucher can be more consistent than he was last season, that would be huge for the Raptors.
McGregor: I’m somewhat concerned.
The Raptors need more from Powell but I’m confident that he can figure things out to contribute what’s needed. I’m also confident in Boucher but in a new role, there will certainly be growing pains. After that, there are some very valid questions surrounding the Raptors’ second unit but I’m not ready to hit the panic button just yet.
He’s a rookie, but I think that the answer might be Malachi Flynn. The 22-year-old was nothing short of impressive in the preseason and I have no reason to believe that he won’t be able to contribute at a similar level once he gets his shot this season.
I have plenty of reason to believe that he’ll be ready once his number is called.
The blown leads
The Raptors have blown a double-digit lead in each of their three losses.
Rafferty: I’m not overly concerned.
I think the Raptors will figure it out. Some of their defensive lapses have been weird, but I’m not going to question this team’s defensive ability yet. The offence is the bigger question. It’s clear they’re still working through some things – a new offence, new teammates, new roles – so I think time will be their friend.
McGregor: I’m not overly concerned, either.
Kyle Lowry called them growing pains and, honestly, that’s what I think it is, too.
I’ve seen this team blow leads before. Last year at home against Portland and San Antonio immediately come to mind. That this has happened three times in a row is obviously going to get headlines but, it happens. If this happened three times 25 games into the season, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it in this manner.
By that point, we will have seen this team hold on to more leads than it has blown.
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