Although two losses in a row, at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat, have put a slight damper on the Toronto Raptors revival, it should not take away from what the team has accomplished. They have re-established their identity and went 3-2 against the class of the Eastern Conference in the games since OG Anunoby’s return. The dinos are not yet extinct.
With our growth mindset here at Raptors HQ, we are always looking to learn more. Here is what we gathered from this past week in 3 Lessons.
1) Fred gets a little boost from steals
Fred VanVleet’s hands have been a major talking point amongst Raptors fans this past week. Whether its counted as a block or a steal (Fred wants it to be a steal), his knack for getting a hand on the ball and taking it for his own is uncanny. As fun as watching the diminutive point guard strip players a foot taller than him is, it is perhaps equally fun to watch what he does after.
A steal for Fred is like a shot of adrenaline for him. Whether intentional or not, Fred temporarily morphs into Andre 3000’s character from Semi Pro, Clarence “Downtown Funky Stuff Malone/Sugar Dunkington/Coffee Black” Withers, oozing swagger and confidence. He gets a cocky hop in his step and will often make something good happen, seemingly entering a state of flow after he rips the rock from an opponent.
Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he turns a turnover into a three coming off a screen.
Against the Philadelphia 76ers, time seemingly slows down for him as he finds Chris Boucher for an open three.
I still remember this one from back in the playoffs, as VanVleet was able to dig in during a series that tested his will, and pulled out this beauty.
Coming in at number two in steals per game with 1.7, VanVleet is at the core of the Raptors defense that is so adept at forcing turnovers, to say nothing of his “blocks”. His little burst that comes after those forced turnovers plays a big role in the Raptors 17.6 points off turnovers per game, a mark that is tied for third in the league.
Fred taking the ball away automatically puts the ball in the hands of one of Toronto’s best creators in a transition or semi-transition situation. That is automatically a good thing. It becomes even better when that creator really starts feeling himself, as VanVleet tends to do after a takeaway.
Watch Fred off his next steal, nobody looks more prepared to do something extremely awesome than he does when he is in that situation.
2) Ben Simmons is slowly gaining public enemy status
Rivalries in the NBA are not nearly as heated as they once were. Particularly amongst fans, social media has made players more accessible and, therefore, more likeable, as its far easier to root against an entity in an opposing jersey that you know nothing about than it is when you acknowledge that the opponent is actually another person. In all likelihood, they aren’t that bad of a dude, and you’d probably like them if they were on your team.
That being said, I HAVE HAD IT UP TO HERE (I’m gesturing wildly towards the sky) WITH BEN SIMMONS CHEAP-SHOTTING OUR HONOURABLE, HARD-WORKING LADS. That guy has been pulling that B.S. (coincidence that those are his initials? I think not) since he entered the league. He’ll elbow Kyle Lowry in the cojones, and then act like nothing happened, wearing that aloof expression that only serves to rile up the Raptors and their fans even more.
On Tuesday, Simmons was at it again, as he applied a hard foul to Norman Powell in transition on an extremely dangerous play. The foul sent Powell barreling into the stanchion, clearly shaking him up for a moment.
It is a miracle Powell didn’t sustain any injuries on that play. Of course, to add to the frustration, everything looked A-OK to the officials on that one. In fact, don’t you dare even complain about it, Norman. After politely suggesting that opponents should not be allowed to use him as a crash test dummy, Norm was given a technical foul. Seems about right.
Look, I don’t think Simmons is a bad guy. Who amongst us hasn’t been caught up in the heat of competition? And while I never like to see players perform intentionally dirty actions (see elbow, Lowry’s nuts), I’d certainly like that Simmons has a bit of an edge if he played on my favourite team. But he’s given Torontonians many a reason to get aggrieved by his play.
Anyways, Ben better chill out and have a Foster’s next time he plays the Raptors. Kyle Lowry is more than willing to take it into the tunnel.
3) We must cope with McCaw minutes once again
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really fall? Similarly, if a Patrick McCaw logs eight minutes and does not ever shoot the ball, did he really play?
Yes, yes he did. After crunching the numbers, a focused team of analysts here at Raptors HQ were able to determine that McCaw did grace the court, only because of the fact that he went -8 in his eight minutes on the floor on Wednesday night against the Miami Heat.
The empty box score and gun-shy mentality that we associate with McCaw brings us back to a simpler time. Last season, one of the only on-court problems we as Raptors fans had during a blissful regular season was that of the McCaw minutes. We wondered why coach Nick Nurse would constantly turn to him when he gave so little. This season, Toronto’s (and our) problems are myriad both on-and-off the court and the last thing we need is to endure long stretches of McCaw when firecrackers like DeAndre’ Bembry and Yuta Watanabe watch him from the bench.
Perhaps McCaw will come around, and we’ll realize why Nurse has always given him such a long leash. But until that happens, I will cringe every time he steps on the floor, knowing that we will get another few minutes of 4-on-5 offense and average defense at best.
That’s it for this week’s batch of lessons. Check back next week. In the meantime, .500, we hardly knew ya, and we’d love a chance to get to know you better. The ongoing battle resumes tonight against Houston.