Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 117-106 loss to the Phoenix Suns in the third of three scrimmage games ahead of the 2019-20 season restart.
One — Sloppy: Maybe the novelty of scrimmaging caught up to them, but the Raptors just couldn’t focus enough on the task at hand. The Raptors committed 26 turnovers (their previous season-high was 23) and were uncharacteristically lazy on defense. Credit to the Suns for capitalizing and for putting on a clinic with their passing, but they got a D-level effort from the defending champions.
Two — Rejuvenated: The Raptors’ most energetic player was 35-year-old Marc Gasol, who got in extra work on a stationary bike even after logging 20 minutes of play. The Raptors made a point to feature Gasol, feeding him extra passes and involving him in most of their halfcourt plays, and the results were solid. Gasol’s ability to make plays on the move by driving against closeouts before kicking it out for three is the basis of Toronto’s offense, and although he only recorded two assists, Gasol created most of Toronto’s best chances. He was also active on defense, including one sequence where he stuffed Deandre Ayton at the rim, before sprinting out to the corner to pressure Devin Booker in the corner. Gasol is the conductor who can turn Toronto’s otherwise average halfcourt offense into something more.
Three — Clunky: Nick Nurse started his jumbo lineup for a second time, and again the results were mixed. There’s more of an emphasis on posting up with the two centers on the floor, although the result is usually a kickout to a semi-contested three. Defensively, there are issues with chasing shooters off the line and the ability to scramble in general, but it’s also hard to draw firm conclusions given their lack of defensive intensity. Nurse scrapped it in the second half and went with Gasol starting while OG Anunoby replaced Serge Ibaka, and that made for the best five minutes of play all game.
Four — Solid: Fred VanVleet logged 23 minutes and looked unbothered by the knee injury that sidelined him for most of Sunday’s scrimmage. VanVleet struggled at times to gain separation — he tossed up a weak floater over Ricky Rubio and was called for a push-off driving against Devin Booker — but that’s also a weakness in his game when he’s fully healthy. For now, it looks as if VanVleet isn’t entirely sure how to operate with the two centers on the floor at once, but that makes sense given that he hasn’t been in most of those lineups all year.
Five — Flashy: After misfiring on a few jumpers in the first two scrimmages, Pascal Siakam was able to showcase the entire arsenal with 17 points in 25 minutes. Siakam hit two stepback threes, a quick pull-up in transition, and a stop-on-a-dime midrange shot. There was a heavy emphasis on Siakam creating off-the-dribble, and that’s one area that needs more refinement. Siakam can usually get to his jumper since he’s 6-foot-9, but he doesn’t yet have the ability to break down the defense and get all the way to the rim on a consistent basis. Once he gets that part down, his free throws and assists will go up.
Six — Details: Anunoby had another quietly strong effort with 10 points, three blocks and two threes in 20 minutes. He continues to show more confidence in his handle, and even shot a stepback from the midrange at one point. The key is for OG to get into the paint off the dribble, because that’s when the defense is at his mercy. Anunoby has the size and strength to finish through contact inside, while also having the awareness to find the open wing players on the kickout. Hopefully, this isn’t just a scrimmage mirage.
Seven — Unsightly: The bench was great in the first two wins, but they were downright dysfunctional Tuesday. Terence Davis and Chris Boucher in particular were error-prone, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was largely invisible despite his role as a hustle player. For Davis, it was the lapses in judgement as a ball handler resulting in turnovers and easy transition layups. For Boucher, it was the inability to hold post position against Frank Kaminsky in the post leading to foul trouble, then poor reads on both offense and defense in his second shift. Both players are much better than what they showed today.
Eight — Experiment: Nurse tried out some of his “janky” defensive schemes, although there was a lack of execution. He tried a 2-3 zone in the third quarter, but the Suns did a great job of finding the open corner shooters. Nurse also pulled out the full court press, but his players failed to trap the ball and it created easy chances at the rim. The only real positives were that Ayton and Devin Booker combined for just 16 points, but overloading the two main players created a slew of open looks for the supporting staff.
Nine — Gimmick: The NBA is trying a little bit too hard in the game presentation. It’s a nice thought to feature virtual fans, or to shine projections to recreate a bit of normalcy, but it all looks like a badly-made powerpoint. The graphics are more distracting than decorative, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that I’ve been in enough Zoom calls at work to have to see another one in the game. Just play ball.
How does a man survive getting sliced by a dinosaur claw? pic.twitter.com/eGE1zBWpZL— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) July 28, 2020
Ten — Promising: Monty Williams has a good thing going with the Suns, which is not easy. Booker has become one of the savviest shooting guards in the league, and they have two-way wings that can pick up the slack on defense. The key will be Ayton’s development. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick isn’t great defensively, and his offensive skillset is a little too traditional for the modern game.
More coverage on Yahoo Sports Canada