No sunshine in Tampa thus far for cold-shooting Raptors

It was no means going to be straightforward for the Raptors, not once they’re dwelling out of lodges and momentary residences greater than 2,000 miles from their house metropolis. Not once they dwell in, far, probably the most top-heavy division within the Japanese Convention.

Nonetheless, the best way the 2018-19 NBA champions have carried out extra like a bottom-feeding also-ran than a presumed title contender in the course of the nascent levels of a difficult 2020-21 season is at the very least a trigger for concern. And the tough circumstances the Raptors discover themselves below, taking part in their house video games in Tampa, Fla., after being compelled southward journey restrictions the Canadian authorities, doesn’t fairly clarify all their early issues. 

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It’s not the only real cause Toronto has been among the many league’s most inept scoring groups up to now, rating 26th in offensive score and useless final in area objective share. It’s not why the Raptors have been routinely steamrolled within the second half of video games throughout their 1-6 begin (their sixth lack of final season didn’t come till their 21st sport, the best way).

No, there’s a bit extra to it than that. And whereas it’s actually not time to press button, there are a number of areas the Raptors clearly want to enhance on if they’re to at the very least prolong their present seven-year streak of playoff appearances. 

The photographs aren’t falling, particularly from deep

The three-point shot has all the time been an enormous a part of the Raptors’ sport since Nick Nurse took over as head coach. They ranked sixth within the NBA in 3-point price (the ratio of 3-pointers tried to whole area objective makes an attempt) final season and 10th throughout their 2018-19 championship marketing campaign. Thus far in 2020-21, practically half (49.2 p.c) of Toronto’s photographs have come from behind the arc — the very best whole within the league. 

The distinction is that this Raptors group is not hitting these photographs at practically the identical proficiency as earlier than. Toronto’s 34.2 success price ranks 24th within the league. The Raptors completed no decrease than sixth in both of the previous two seasons. 

In 2019-20, the Raptors had six gamers with at the very least three 3-point makes an attempt per sport shoot 38 p.c or higher from lengthy vary, tied with the Pistons for probably the most within the NBA. Solely three present gamers (Fred VanVleet, Chris Boucher, Matt Thomas) could make that declare thus far this season. 

Two gamers who completed that feat in 2019-20, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, have moved on. Aron Baynes, a 35 p.c 3-point shooter over the previous two seasons, was signed with the intent to fill the void, however he’s Three of 16 on triple makes an attempt up to now. Holdover OG Anuno, simply weeks faraway from signing a four-year, $72 million extension, is 12 of 41 (29.3 p.c) after hitting at a 39 p.c clip in 2019-20. 

The place have you ever gone, Pascal Siakam? 

Siakam’s well-documented struggles in Toronto’s seven-game loss to Boston in final season’s Japanese Convention semifinals might not have been a blip on the radar.

The Celtics masterfully neutralized the ahead  deploying the smaller Jaylen Brown as his main defender, and groups have been efficiently following that blueprint in the course of the early levels of this season. 

The plan is working thus far. Typically drawing defenders with the size and athleticism to provide him issues (the 76ers’ Ben Simmons and the Spurs’ Rudy Homosexual had been notably efficient), Siakam is just not attending to the rim with the identical frequency as previous years, and (see beneath) has been among the many least environment friendly gamers of his measurement when doing so.

Lowest area objective share on the rim, gamers 6-9 or taller, 2020-21 season (min. 100 minutes performed) 

Isaiah Stewart, Pistons, .478 
Pascal Siakam, Raptors, .488 
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs, .500 
Brook Lopez, Bucks, .500 
Jusuf Nurkic, Path Blazers, .500 
Dwight Powell, Mavericks, .500 

The Raptors have been outscored an astonishing 63 factors with Siakam on the courtroom, a median of 10.5 per sport that’s eclipsed solely  a pair of gamers from the probably lottery-bound Timberwolves (D’Angelo Russell, Ed Davis) for the worst mark within the league. 

It has been a humbling begin for the 2018-19 NBA Most Improved Participant, and that frustration was no extra evident than when he bolted straight to the locker room after fouling out late in a loss to the 76ers. Nurse benched him for the subsequent sport, which occurs to be the one one the Raptors have gained thus far.

Siakam did look extra like his outdated self in Wednesday’s outing at Phoenix, when he put up 32 factors and shot over 50 p.c from the sphere for the primary time this season. It goes with out saying the Raptors want him to return to his All-Star type; they had been 19-1 when he scored 25 or extra factors in a sport in 2019-20. 

Leads are slipping away 

Six groups have misplaced a number of instances when holding a double-digit lead in a sport thus far. The Rockets, Hawks, Wizards and Pistons have performed so twice, the Grizzlies thrice. The Raptors have 5 such losses way of their first seven outings.

Beginning nicely hasn’t been an issue — Toronto is outscoring opponents a median of 4.3 factors within the first quarter, the second-best mark within the NBA behind solely the Bucks. Beginning the second half nicely has been an actual subject, nevertheless. The Raptors have been outscored a median of 5.4 factors within the third quarter, with solely the Timberwolves and Cavaliers having been worse.

In distinction, the Raptors outscored foes 4.Three factors per sport within the third quarter (fourth-best within the NBA) whereas going 53-19 final season. They ranked second within the league throughout their 2018-19 title run.  

So what is the cause for the dramatic drop-off? Is it as a result of Toronto fields one of many league’s older rosters? The Raptors are certainly one of solely three groups with two starters (Baynes and Kyle Lowry) aged 34 or older. One of many others is the Lakers, nevertheless, so there goes that principle. 

A scarcity of depth is the extra believable reply. The Raptors rank 27th within the NBA in bench scoring, although in addition they had one of many league’s least productive second items final season. That was much less of a difficulty in 2019-20 as a result of the beginning 5 was typically so good. With Siakam, Anuno and Baynes all underperforming up to now, it has shortly turn into a extra urgent concern. 

The underside line 

There isn’t any trigger for alarm but for Toronto followers relating to their snowbird group. If not for a number of dangerous stretches, the Raptors might simply as simply be 5-2 as an alternative of 1-6, and a protection that’s nonetheless among the many NBA’s higher items has stored them in each sport despite their inefficiencies on the opposite finish. 

There may be sufficient of a observe document all through the roster to recommend that the offense will come round. Additional, it must occur for a group that has been constructed to win now and whose window could also be closing quickly.

Lowry, the Raptors’ unquestioned coronary heart and soul, is within the ultimate 12 months of his contract and turns 35 in March. Does group president Masai Ujiri take into account shifting him on the commerce deadline if Toronto finds itself preventing for merely a playoff spot as an alternative of a division title? 

The subsequent two months needs to be very intriguing in Toronto. And Tampa as nicely.  

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