Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 117-105 loss to the Miami Heat in the final preseason game ahead of the 2020-21 season.
One — Rough: There are no positives to really take away from this result. Toronto had its full roster going against a Heat team that were missing four rotation players, including Jimmy Butler, and were thoroughly outplayed on both ends of the floor. Hot shooting kept the Raptors close, but poor execution on both ends resulted in a blowout loss. It’s still only preseason after all, but you would hope to be a lot sharper after three weeks of training camp. There is still a lot to work on ahead of the season opener next Wednesday.
Two — Paint: The main theme from the three preseason performances is that the Raptors struggle to get into the paint. This was an issue last season too, but it seems to have worsened. Not having Serge Ibaka in the middle is a clear downgrade as they now lack a target man, but the starters struggled too. Miami simply packed the paint and the Raptors couldn’t generate any momentum towards the basket. Toronto ended up taking 59 threes, which is absurd even in the modern game. Nick Nurse called it “a little bit extreme” but also said the Heat’s defense dictated that number. If the defense dictates the shots you take, they have won.
Three — Driver: Toronto’s best interior scorer is Pascal Siakam, but defenses are doing everything possible to keep him from getting there. Siakam was lights out from deep, launching freely and confidently, but he couldn’t generate anything inside. His only paint basket was on a drive in transition, and had zero success in the halfcourt. Miami and Charlotte have stuffed the paint against Siakam and it’s not smart to force shots just because, but Siakam also needs to find ways to beat the defense. Taking and making the shots that defenses are willing to live with is good, but there needs to be another level.
Four — Clogged: Another issue for the starting five is the play of Aron Baynes, who looks very out of sync. Baynes is used to rolling to the basket and clearing out a lane for his guards space to drive, but it’s having the opposite effect. Defenses are just sticking with Baynes, packing the paint and there are no driving lanes to attack. That’s a huge difference as compared to Marc Gasol, who stuck to the three-point line for the majority of his offensive possessions. That ability to play in the pick-and-pop is also shared by Baynes, who should try to get out to the perimeter a lot more than he did in the three preseason games.
Five — Sloppy: Toronto’s defense was lacking today, although most of the mistakes were self-inflicted. The Raptors lacked attention and focus, with several instances of missed rotations, miscommunications on switches leaving shooters open, allowing backcuts to the basket, and just being late to react in general. Credit to the Heat for running a slick offensive scheme that emphasizes off-ball movement and clever post play, but the Raptors need to be better. They are supposed to be able to hang their hats on the defensive end, and that just wasn’t there tonight.
Six — Rolling: Kyle Lowry finally made his preseason debut after his clandestine start to training camp, and he was roaring to go. Lowry was in midseason form, scoring 25 points in 27 minutes including 6-of-10 from three, and was one of the only Raptors who could actually get to the basket. Lowry’s prickliness was also in peak form, as he chewed out the officials from start to finish, while bumping and grifting his way into calls on both ends of the floor. He even tried to take a charge at halfcourt. Lowry is a man of his word, and he is ready for the start of the season.
Seven — Trade-off: There was a raging debate last season over Nurse giving minutes to a defender in Pat McCaw over a rookie scorer in Terence Davis. That same dynamic will play out this year between DeAndre’ Bembry and rookie Malachi Flynn. Bembry is playing in the same role as McCaw, soaking up minutes with the starters and mostly being slotted at the top of the floor to slow down point guards. However, that meant Flynn didn’t see time until the fourth quarter. Nurse wants the identity of the team to be defense, so he will always lean that way when given the choice. In the case of McCaw and Davis, the difference defensively was stark. Flynn, however, can hold his own. The quicker he proves that, the quicker the equation will shift.
Eight — Tiny: Size will be a major issue for the Raptors this year. At one point, the Raptors had Chris Boucher at center and Norman Powell at power forward, with three guards flanking them. That’s never going to get it done, even if the guards score on the other end. There’s a mismatch at just about every spot and it’s untenable. The lack of a reserve power forward, or even a small forward with some physicality, is glaringly obvious.
Nine — Sharp: If it was just based on performances, Yuta Watanabe deserves the 15th roster spot. Watanabe was a positive contributor in all three games, and tonight was his finest showing. Watanabe was active on defense, made second efforts to collect defensive rebounds, and made smart decisions on offense. He hit two threes, including one where he raced down the floor at full speed before stopping on a dime. Watanabe also picked out Flynn twice with precise cross-court passes which resulted in two wide open threes, which Flynn split. Toss in a decent handle that allows him to push the pace in transition and to attack the occasional closeout, and he should win that roster spot.
Ten — Worrisome: I’m not sure yet if it’s a lack of chemistry, or if the Raptors just lack in smart players. There isn’t much togetherness on the floor, and poor decision makers seem to outweigh the strong ones. Norman Powell has struggled to make the right reads, while Davis is erratic as usual. Matt Thomas had a strong start to preseason, but he was poor on defense tonight and got benched for it. Anunoby hasn’t been able to generate anything offensively and his eagerness to score is resulting in turnovers. Boucher has his moments. The togetherness of the last two seasons needs to be recaptured.
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