The Toronto Raptors are officially treading water.
Going 2-2 this week, the Raptors managed to beat a short-handed Nets team and a terrible Cleveland Cavaliers team. How terrible are those Cavs, you ask?
On the other end of the spectrum, Toronto lost to a less-shorthanded Nets team Tuesday night after falling apart in the fourth quarter on the heels of a back-to-back. They also managed to lose to a — still unbelievable to say — good New York Knicks team. So, despite playing better as of late, the Raptors are still 1.5 games behind the 10th place Washington Wizards for the final spot in the play-in tournament.
No matter how encouraging the results may be, this level of water-treading will not lead Toronto anywhere productive. Will coach Nick Nurse pull the plug on this Raptors season with one of the toughest stretches of schedule of the season awaiting them, or can the team push their way through into a playoff spot?
Let’s take the temperature!
OG Anunoby, Doing it All
This past week was an absolute master class performance by OG Anunoby.
Yes, the numbers are impressive, but the way in which OG is accumulating those numbers shines brighter. OG already possessed the building blocks of a high basketball IQ, allowing him to showcase his great cutting ability from the beginning of his career. In the early years, though, OG’s cutting was largely the only weapon in his arsenal. Since then, Anunoby has expanded his offensive repertoire with a Nowitzki-esque fall-away jumper, the ability to (sometimes) create his own shot off the bounce, and his greatly improved initial spacing and re-allocation to the corners — where he’s shooting 44 percent for the season! His three-point shooting along the wings has improved and while his dribbling can still be a bit of an adventure, OG’s offense has truly blossomed this year. Moreover, there’s another aspect to OG’s game that truly propels him into rare NBA air: his defense.
OG is a phenomenal 1 on 1 defender, allowing just 0.65 Points per possession in iso situations, ranking 4th in the NBA.
From less than 8 feet out, OG ranks 10th in the NBA with a 55 DFG%, and ranks 2nd in the NBA with a 36.1 DFG% from 8-16 feet out. pic.twitter.com/0IhG0KtYM8
— Alex (@alex_raptors) April 24, 2021
While this Raptors season has been an absolute train-wreck in almost every possible way — hey, at least Kyle didn’t get traded! — at least Toronto is getting an extended look at one of the better up-and-coming weapons in the NBA: OG Anunoby.
Pascal Siakam, Deserving
The extremely messy echo chamber of Raptors Twitter would have you believe that there is something wrong with Pascal Siakam. The very same Pascal Siakam who, in April, put up these numbers.
Yes, he had a pretty bad game on the second night of a back-to-back against the Nets, but the discourse around Siakam this season has been disappointing, especially when it’s coming from Raptors fans and not just the usual mainstream media cacophony. Perhaps it was the collective expectation on Pascal’s continued growth after signing his max deal that he would be a surefire number one guy, perhaps it’s the playing in Tampa and getting COVID and on and on and on. One thing is for sure, Raptors fans should start appreciating Siakam for who he is, not what they thought he might be.
Khem Birch, Making it Look Easy
You wouldn’t think that scoring 14 points as a fourth-year player in the NBA would be all that exciting, but when you’ve toiled your entire career in Orlando and you finally get to play with a real point guard, I suppose it would be!
Khem Birch to @KateBeirness on playing with Kyle Lowry: “This is the easiest 14 points I’ve ever had in my career.”
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 27, 2021
Birch has been playing with exuberance and, above all else for Raptors fans, competence at the centre position since he was signed near the beginning of April. Now fans will have to wait to see what Birch will command on the market open.
Kyle Lowry on his quick chemistry with Khem Birch: “(I’m) trying to get him paid.”
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) April 27, 2021
Chris Boucher, Injury
Juuuuuuuust as the Raptors were getting healthy, Chris Boucher went down after Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot inadvertently landed on Boucher’s leg as he was going up for a rebound.
Raptors’ Chris Boucher has a sprained MCL in his left knee and his return timetable will be based on rehab process, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Good news: Tests revealed no major injury in the breakout F/C’s knee.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) April 23, 2021
Say what you will of Boucher’s sometimes up and down play, Toronto is going to need everything they’ve got to sneak into the play-in tournament. At a minimum, Boucher will be out a few more games as he is not making the trip out West for the team’s four-game road swing.
Gary Trent Jr., Not Built for the Bench
Speaking of injured Raptors, Gary Trent Jr. has also missed a handful of games with injury, though, that is not why he’s in this portion of the temperature. Trent Jr. has been struggling mightily since the core of the Raptors returned to health averaging 10 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1 assist on 28/23/50 shooting splits.
This used to be a common trait for Norman Powell — the man Trent Jr. was traded for — for the majority of his career with the Raptors. Norm managed to sort out how to thrive no matter his spot in the lineup and the hope is Gary will figure that out with an offseason of work in Toronto under his probably really expensive belt.
DeAndre’ Bembry, Wheels Have Fallen Off
To say this has been an up-and-down season for everyone on the Raptors would be a massive understatement. That understatement still happens to be extremely true for DeAndre’ Bembry.
After starting the season by getting four minutes of playing time and then being banished to the land of DNP-CDs, Bembry received another shot at meaningful minutes and delivered throughout the season. DeAndre’ was carrying a lot of the playmaking load for the oft-injured and/or sick Raptors with aplomb… right up until he wasn’t. Once Bembry began to slip, and coach Nurse had a more fulsome rotation to work with, everything started to crater for the crafty Bembry. He has logged just 11 minutes over the last four games.
With his 2021-22 contract not fully guaranteed, it will be interesting to see where Bembry fits in the Raptors’ long-term picture.