I know, I know, the trade deadline. But we can’t all sit in paralytic fear waiting for all the Shammers to drop. The show must go on!
Also, I wholly acknowledge that I am emulating Zach Lowe’s 10 NBA things I do and don’t like, which is the point. Consider it an homage.
Finally, everything may change between now and the deadline (re: trading our franchise’s greatest player or Osmow’s best scorer). That’s how it goes. ‘Tis the curse of a fast-fry industry.
1. Jack Armstrong on Cameo
I’m not sure how I feel about Cameo. For those of you unfamiliar, you pay celebrities – typically of the B-rated variety – to send a personalized (and kind of scripted) video recording to whoever you think appreciates that sort of thing.
It feels oddly exploitative. (I saw a Dog the Bounty Hunter sent to one of my friends; it was too sad to watch). At the same time, why not squeeze whatever you did to be famous for every milliliter of juice it’s got. That’s capitalism, baby.
I never thought Jack the type. And was surprised when my friend shared a video purchased for him. Godddddamn was it beautiful.
Jack costs $60. I doubt he needs the money or that he gets enough requests for $60/per to do much of anything other than get himself a couple of bottles of Jameson every now and then.
My guess, he does it because he loves sharing the love. He knows he has a devout fanbase – me – who want to hear from him. So he gives them the opportunity for a reasonable fee.
The message he left for my friend very nearly brought me to tears. It was so genuine, optimistic, heartfelt, and supportive. There was nothing boilerplate or scripted about it.
I already loved Jack, but after that video, I deeply feel the need to hug him for way too long.
As an aside, if you’re wondering what other Raptor cameos you can get, I’ve done the research on your behalf. (Vince’s photo says suave magician at an Adults-only birthday party to me).
2. Aron Baynes Sitting…A Lot More
After averaging twenty minutes a game this season, Baynes played six, fourteen, six, and three minutes the last four games (including last night against Denver). It is quite the indictment, when, as the largest player on your team, your coach opts for a small forward to size up Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokić instead. But it’s about damn time.
I gave it as long as I could. I really did.
I loved the signing when it happened.
“Ooooo” I thought, so sneaky of Masai. A Gasol-lite with a bit more heft and a lot more brutishness. An Embiid-Stoppisher. You lose the passing and gain the rebounding. Brilliant.
But the Phoenix Suns Baynes – he hit a career-high in two-point (58% on five attempts) and three-point (35% on four attempts) field goal percentages and was a net zero on defence – is a thing of the past.
He’s deadweight on offence. He’s shooting a miserable 25% from three. When he gets the ball down low – that’s if his cricket-bat hands even catch it – he’s heaving up “lay-ups” and floaters(?) like he’s emptying chamberpots out the window.
He’s the 11th worst shooting centre at five feet or less (on three attempts a game) and, according to 82games.com, 12% of his inside shots (which account for 43% of his total shots) get blocked.
His inefficacy on offence neuters Toronto’s preferred style of play. They rely on finding advantages out of penetration, using the bigs as the ultimate scoring option or as a relay to the next open player.
Baynes is dried toothpaste gumming everything up. Bigs leave him-be up high and willingly recover late knowing he’s no real threat at the rim. Even when wide open.
How did Masai think Aron Baynes is gonna replace serge and Marc
He can’t even make a wide open dunk pic.twitter.com/aefeWtTUHv
— Jack Armstrong Burner (@Jack_burneracct) March 23, 2021
The last bastion of the Baynes Cause was his defence. But the Raps are better off without him on the court – they allow five more points per 100 possessions and give up 116 points per possession (26th percentile) with him.
Guards get by him like he’s a TTC turnstyle. He’s unplayable against teams with mobile bigs (ahem, Coach Nurse, unplayable, I say). Against traditional bigs, he serves no better. They have no problem shooting over him or pulling him out to face up. Mason Plumlee dropped a trip-doub on his topknot. Nurse has opted for OG and Co. instead.
It’s time for Mr. Baynes to bid his adieu.
3. The Certainty of OG Anunoby
Are we sure OG is human? He’s already got the Kawhi Leonard atonal, simple-response algorithm down. Robot is not out of the question yet.
Further evidence: the other returning fellas have had obvious challenges since sitting out five games due to COVID health and safety protocols. Until his rip against Denver, Pascal Siakam has looked generally fatigued. FVV, on the other hand, seemed fit-as-ever after the first game, but his touch at the rim and shot behind the arc suffered (he was much better against Houston and Denver).
OG has not missed a beat. In his three games since returning, he’s averaged thirty-one minutes, scored eighteen points on 50% shooting from three, and recorded eight steals and three blocks – which, besides minutes played, are all well above his season averages. He has also averaged the fifth most deflections in the league over that three-game span. The Raptors defence crumbled the night he rested.
COVID may affect human; it does not affect the OG.
4. The Kyle Lowry-Chris Boucher Connexion
By the time you read this, either or both may be gone from the team. Until then.
One of the itzy-bitzy, silver thread-like-linings with Toronto’s COVID-19 misery was the blossoming connection between Chris Boucher and Kyle Lowry. This year, with the two of them on the court, the Raptors have an offensive rating of 118 (85th percentile), per pbpstats.com; with them both off, 104.
The two of them had an extra four minutes of run together per game during the 0-5 stretch without the other three starters. They paired naturally like Serge and Lowry once did. Boucher’s athleticism provides the Lowry-Meta-Mind greater freedom of expression. No one else on the team has the necessary combination of size, hands, and shot to accommodate Lowry’s adventures.
Boucher has found balance with Lowry’s cadence timing his dives and cuts at the right intervals.
Looming on the perimeter, Boucher gives Lowry the perfect exit strategy after bowling ball deep down the lane. He sucks Boucher’s defenders towards him with that planetary gravitational pull of his ass and then punts it directly backwards to the awaiting Boucher.
And, of course, Boucher’s a perfect screen and roll option with his ability to one dribble cram, catch and shoot, or dive for lobs.
The problem is (A) Nurse keeps giving too many minutes to Baynes (see #2) and (B) Boucher disappears at times. If he’s not hitting his three or making big defensive plays he fades. That’s a natural flaw with players gaining extra minutes against other teams’ starters.
Moving forward, FVV and Boucher could formulate a similar dynamic. A simulacrum of the good old Championship Team days.
5. The New “The Creator” [Drake] Jerseys
I’ll tell you right now, and this is going to ruffle many a feather, I dislike Drake a whole lot. His music, his “swag”, his empire, and, especially, his [fake] court side antics (and multiple vacancies against “unimportant” teams).
Speaking of! Where’s he been at anyway? All of the sudden we start losing and our “supposed number one fan” is nowhere to be seen. Curious.
*UPDATE: A Drake sighting! Conveniently, right when Kyle Lowry is in a postgame interview for his, possibly, last career game with the Raptors. Couldn’t have waited until he knew Kyle was cozy at home? What a narcissist.
So, suffice it to say, I am biased. But still, Drake aside, I don’t dig the new black and gold 2020/21 City Edition, “The Creator”, jerseys. I didn’t like Version 1.0; 2.0 is no better.
The writing emulates the 1995 “Dinos” jersey, which is a cool ode to the old school. But black and gold kill me. It’s the Jack Astor’s of jerseys.
Ya, the idea’s cool and new looks are always refreshing, but the Raptors are not a team of cool bartenders and DJs working at an underground cocktail lounge playing deep house covers of Barry White where you can drink two-for-one CranHattans all night. They’re prehistoric beasts for goodness sakes! Not a limo service.
I do, however, love the claw marks on the side of the shorts. It’s clever. They’re mean and voracious, as a Raptor once was and these Raptors are trying to rediscover.
6. Normy Off the Dribble
Norm is fifth in the league in pull-ups eFG% (of players with 20+ games-played, 20+ minutes per game, and 2+ attempts per game). Granted, that’s only on three attempts a game. But last year, he took less than one.
The increased rate and consistency opens lanes for Norm to slice into and finish at the rim – which has significantly improved over the last two years.
On this first play, he uses the screen from Aron Baynes to get just enough space to jack. Tristan Thompson sags off knowing Norm to be more of a slasher. Mistake. On the next play, Norm rejects the screen with a tight cross. Jaylen Brown bites while Daniel Theis is preparing to accept the screen – to probably hedge – and is late to stifle Norm’s weak side attack.
You can imagine the permutations of opportunities the pull-up creates. Next time, the helpside defender might overcompensate and give Norm the space to drive. Or Norm accepts the screen and burns past the hesitant hedge. And so on, and so on. The pull-up allows players to play chess with a Queen instead of a Rook.
This is how Norm’s game has arrived at the next level; it is also how he will maintain himself at elite scorer status in the NBA – that, and becoming any sort of a playmaker for others.
Zach Lavine is a fire-breathing Bull this year doing exactly that. His pull-up eFG% is eleven percent better and on a higher volume than last year. He’s become virtually unstoppable as a result.
Dame Lillard same thing. Each year he has progressively improved his pull-up volume and accuracy to the point, now, he’s accurately dive-bombing from thirty feet.
The more Norm can pull defenders away from the rim with his pull-up, the less predictable his offensive creativity will be.
7. Treating Kyle Lowry Right
Once upon a time, Masai Ujiri tried to smuggle Kyle Lowry out of Toronto and ship him to the New York Knicks for Metta World Peace, Iman Shumpert, and a first round pick. Dummy James Dolan kiboshed the trade.
Another once upon a time, Ujiri blindsided DeMar DeRozan (and possibly lied to him) sending him to the Alamo for Kawhi Leonard. That was a messy divorce for the kids.
This time around, whatever happens to Kyle come the deadline, he’s been done right by. The Franchise is giving Kyle the keys to his own future. Rightfully so. He’s Numero Uno Toronto Raptor now. Which is wild to think about given five years ago we were all kvetching about his inability to win in the postseason.
But here we are absolutely endeared by his constant badgering of the refs and mischievous drawing of fouls. He is the vulgar, loud uncle that brings you toys every time he visits and who we will all absolutely miss if and when he leaves wasted.
He deserves to choose what’s best for him and his family and we will all gracefully honour whatever that turns out to be.
8. Free Throws Discrepancy
You tell me what’s going on here.
I dunno. I am open to all suggestions. Here are mine:
Lowry’s incessant two-handed appeals for innocence have come home to roost.
The ambrosial cadence of Marc Gasol’s argumentation no longer assuages the Refs’ egos.
An NBA Cabal directive has been issued to make sure 2019 never happens again.
The NBA. HATES. CANADA.
The funny thing is, during that span of time, the Raptors were second in personal fouls drawn with twenty-two a game and first in the League in opponent personal fouls drawn with twenty-three.
Which means, to have that kind of disparity at the free-throw line, the Raptors commit way more shooting fouls than their opponents. Understandable. They’re often undersized in the paint and on the perimeter, causing a tendency to compensate by being more physical or reaching more than one should.
But the Raptors, in that same thirteen games, placed twelfth in drives per game and twentieth in paint touches. And they were seventeenth in field goal attempts with a defender within two feet or less (three less than the leading team). So it’s not like they were not putting themselves in a position to get shooting fouls. Again, that might have to do with size or lack-there-of.
You can really only do so much sleuthing with data – I’d have to go over the game tape and really scrutinize why the Refs felt the way they did about each call and non-call.
Either way, this disproportionate streak has gone on for way too long. Nick Nurse is sure as Hell fed up with it.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse was fined $50,000 for throwing his mask, and directing profanity towards an official, per @ShamsCharania pic.twitter.com/7XNlbX6K7D
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) March 21, 2021
9. Rebounding Disparity
Can’t hate the Refs or Basketball Freemasons for this.
The trend is not a recent revelation. The Raptors are the worst rebounding team in the league and give up the eighth most rebounds. It’s been significantly worse with the strapped roster.
It’s a consequence of being undersized, no doubt. When you have the tag team, Slim Siakam and Hulk Hoganunoby – or Intercontinental Champion, The Ultimate Stanimal – working the boards, you’re going to have problems. Simply out jumped or overwhelmed by net total of human mass.
Everyone has to communally put in the work; sometimes, nay, often, that doesn’t happen. Normy is victim to head-swivels and blank stares or the guards leak out. To be fair, the Raptors rank second in box outs per game, but it’s clearly not enough.
Only Baynes, FVV, and, now, Siakam, are positive rebounding contributors according to 82games.com’s on/off numbers. Everyone else is net zero or negative.
Whether it’s preventable or not, a string of one-and-dones and several hard-earned defensive possessions corrupted by an offensive board or two are utterly demoralizing and exhausting. Especially, for a team already disheartened.
10. The Trade Deadline
Who doesn’t love the trade deadline?
Well, not me, not when the franchise player of your favourite team is getting ogled by contenders and pretenders alike.
Definitely not me, when your team was on a nine-game losing streak in a sellers’ market and has a Sith Lord for a President of Operations – I’m too attached to this team for Masai to highway robbery everyone else.
Not I, when the sweetheart of the team, who you have watched for six years develop into a bonafide NBA killer, is getting shopped around like he’s a set of Encyclopedias.
I am getting more waves of Celebration-of-Life-melancholy than PLINKO-drop-for-grand-prize thrill.
I’ve got incense and a Two-Litre of Mountain Dew.
I am prepared to process whatever lays ahead.