This one’s a little hefty on the War and Peace scale of reads. Sorry, not sorry. Maybe read it in chapters during your morning “routine”.
1. Forward Ho! Ye Ranks of All-Star Voters
This is an obligatory instalment until Fred and Pascal hit the requisite votes. The newest count is in:
Fred VanVleet moves from 10th to 8th in Eastern Conference guard voting.
Pascal Siakam makes his first appearance and No. 8 in Eastern Conference forward voting.
And Canadian Andrew Wiggins is currently No. 3 in Western Conference forward voting. pic.twitter.com/5TpKHUvC5L
— Oren Weisfeld (@OrenWeisfeld) January 13, 2022
Freddy and Pascal are making a push. They both deserve it.
If you feel indifferent or apathetic, think of this as a David vs. Goliath thing. A slight on your fandom and your favourite team. The NBA and its fans and its media don’t give a shit about the Toronto Raptors. None, whatsoever. We’re a funny silly thing like the CFL. They’re all talkin’ about Lowry and DeRozan like they just suddenly appeared out of thin air. HELLOOOO!!?? They’ve been like this for half a decade.
So, prove all those jerks wrong and go vote. You can vote 10 times a day.
Here, just retweet my tweets. I did the hard work for you:
— The Gentle Watch (@AdonMoss) January 13, 2022
Until Tuesday night, I had not L-O-Led so loud, at home, in front of a TV, watching an NBA game since Shaq went tits up on TNT:
or when Shaq – seriously, not a good analyst, but a hilarious character, sometimes – argues with Kenny about saving gas:
That’s Abbot and Costello stuff right there. Say what you will about these old men and their old takes, they’re very funny.
Anyway, they owned NBA hilarity until Tuesday night when Toronto played the Phoenix Suns in an empty Scotiabank Arena.
First, for those of you unaware, Toronto’s fanless right now. The Raptors, effectively, host scrimmages on National TV. Second, if you also did not know, Toronto has a Raptor(s) for its Mascot – named, The Raptor. I say plural because sometimes The Raptor is its normal size, sometimes it’s pequito (tiny, tiny), and sometimes it’s grandissimo (supersized).
The Raptor’s always been a source of unique entertainment (see Robin Lopez altercation below); it even made Zach Lowe’s 10 things I like and don’t like (#4) as a symbol of COVID and sports last week.
The most recent was Tuesday. Now, recall, we have a red dinosaur, wandering the empty stands of an arena that can hold 20,000 people. That’s funny in and of itself.
Then, The Raptor randomly decided to supersize and in the process blots out the play like Mr. Burns the sun.
The casual appearance by the giant raptor though I just pic.twitter.com/gyOSwe2MQw
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) January 12, 2022
Like, so many questions. Where is it going and what is it doing and who is it entertaining? Not the fans, there are none. Not us, it wasn’t even looking in our direction. Maybe it was just on its way to keep Masai company somewhere in the stands.
The real noise came when The Raptor was just doing his job and frigged with Devon Booker shooting an important free throw:
been a long time since ive laughed this hard. *this* is what Booker was mad at. look at that verticality!!! pic.twitter.com/IodruVIsbZ
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) January 12, 2022
Devon didn’t think so. He’s, apparently, a 0 or 100 type guy. Either there’s 5000 towel-waving fans trying to fuck up your free shots or none. No, in-between.
Devin Booker upset that the Raptors mascot, the only fan in the building, is behind the hoop distracting him with the game on the line. Refs send him to timeout in the corner. pic.twitter.com/F9zLGPPD5D
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) January 12, 2022
Refs accorded Book’s grievance and The Raptor was sent to the dunce corner. Pretty weak move by Devon, really. That’s its jobbbbbb, Devon. This isn’t the Y (I swear if I have to get into another fight with a dude who keeps challenging my shot by shoving his hand into my eyes and saying, “it’s legal,” I might learn how to skate). You’re a performer. Deal with a little jestful adversity, cutie.
Or, if you got an issue, then at least respond like a true heel:
Robin Lopez and Toronto Raptors mascot share a moment pic.twitter.com/T7vc91qMpD
— Space Jelly (@spacejellysf) December 31, 2018
Not sure how Robin and The Raptor are these days, but Book and The Raptor?
They worked it out.
Devin Booker and The Raptor are cool now 🤝 😂 pic.twitter.com/2XfjdNENTr
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 12, 2022
UPDATE #1: Orrrr sooooo I thought. Plot thickens. I wrote all that aforementioned garble this Wednesday morning and then Wednesday afternoon Devin prolonged the feud:
The Raptor got the last laugh:
All I have to say is, you’d think their PR teams would get higher resolution photos for this silly spat.
UPDATE #2: My God, it’s getting a bit much now.
@Phoenix PR: friends, like, this is not a good thing to turn into a thing. Your star player threw a tantrum over an oversized stuffed toy faking him out. It’s embarrassing.
Ohhh, thanks @TheOriginalWes, I knew Book reminded me of someone whiny and pathetic:
Damn, can’t believe the dinosaur tried to double team him… pic.twitter.com/D7pprXGCNs
— Wesley Paul (@The0riginalWes) January 13, 2022
UPDATE #3: I mispoke, Benny the Bull got the last laugh:
CAN SOMEBODY PLEASE MOVE THIS RAPTOR? I almost didn’t make my half court shot on the first try 🙄😒 pic.twitter.com/0XAGsGmkko
— Benny (@bennythebull) January 13, 2022
All things considered, I love Precious Achuiwa.
He’s finding a role with the Raptors as a great rebounder and an excellent all-positions defender. The Raptors allow 7 fewer points per 100 possessions and 4% fewer offensive rebounds with him on the floor (both of which place him in the 89th percentile for bigs). That’s what they need most from him. The rest of it is gravy except when it’s runny and chunky.
I know Precious needs to test the offensive waters. Rightfully so: Toronto empowers these guys to do it; he’s 22 and eager to blossom. You saw at the start of the season how OG, Precious, Chris, and Gary, were all trying to get theirs. With Freddy yet to be revealed as one of the best scorers in the game, Scottie an “unpolished” rookie, and Pascal out for some time, there was plenty of void to be filled.
OG and Gary were ready; Precious and Chris not so much. You need the experience – bad or good – to evolve. At some point, though enough is enough. Precious has a field goal percentage of 49% when he takes 0 dribbles; he takes 1 dribble or more that percentage drops to an average of 28%. He and Chris had to (likely a coach or two instructed them to) reel it back…mostly.
Precious still has these moments that are utterly maddening. I don’t mind him doing the odd self-creation. But he needs to be judicious. Context and flow and matchups and scheme and shot clock and score all need to be computed instantaneously to know exactly when and where the moment to attack exists.
For super-scorers, the answer is always. For learners like Precious, where the processing is at a 64-bit level, the answer is rarely – especially when scoring a meagre 0.65 points per possession in isolation.
Precious just CAN’T do this:
OG posts up getting the defence in a tizzy. OG kicks to Precious to exploit the bedlam. Freeze the video when Precious receives the ball and look: Kevin Knox…KEVIN…KNOX…is alone to guard both Boucher at the 3 and Barnes in the dunker spot. Obi is square to Precious so a quick rip-and-go or pull-up is out of the question. What does Precious do? Back-dribble to the top of the key and fiddle away at Obi. It’s not a bad take, but if you notice, Quentin Grimes and Alec Burks botch the rotation to retreat to Barnes and Boucher. If Precious makes the proper pass that’s an easy 2 or 3.
It gets worse, though. Precious gets his own rebound, shot clock resets to 14. Kevin Knox is the lone defender. I understand that Precious thinks he can overpower Knox – poor Knox – but he just blew one isolation, I’m not convinced Precious should immediately go back into another. He draws the double from Grimes. Freeze! Great, someone’s open; namely, Scottie, Precious’ neighbour, is WIDE open for a 3. Too late. Turnover.
This is what I mean by low-level processing. If you’re going to choose to take your man mano-e-mano, you need to identify moments when you should and shouldn’t and, if attacking, when to realize the extra pass should be your end goal. That takes time, I know, but this can’t happen twice in one possession.
It also can’t happen when it irks your best player:
Or looks-off your exponentially better playmaker:
This, on the other hand, is perfect:
Precious feeling comfortable! pic.twitter.com/tdO6r7I5iY
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) January 12, 2022
Three Raptors are on the weakside. Svi, a legitimate 3-point threat, is shadowed by Cam Payne. Precious has 7-footer, JaVale McGee, wayyyyy too far out on the perimeter (Precious is 24% from 3). That’s a ripe tomato for a rip-and-go. Precious jabs and crosses: ahhh lil blowby. Help is semi-late, but Precious…HOLY FINISH PRECIOUS…hot-knives [not those kind]-through-butter to the rim. It’s just a lay-up, I know, but Precious has an at-rim field goal percentage in the 7th percentile for bigs. We’ve all agonized over those Goddamn missed bunnies.
Same here with the weakside attack on Nemanja Bjelica. Just gotta figure out the finish or look up to see FVV weakside:
Precious can win one-on-ones. Against Golden State, he also faced up Juan Toscano-Anderson, backed him down, easy peasy.
Pick your victims. Choose your spots. That’s all I’m saying.
4. Toronto Buyers Club
Trade talk is heating up. Less than a month to go.
The latest chitter-chatter came from Bleacher Report’s, Jake Fischer who reported that Toronto’s “rebuild” phase is assumed over by other teams.
Notable comments and inferences by yours truly:
i. Toronto was mentioned in Myles Turner rumblings
This feels a bit premature to give up a lot for someone I’m not sure moves the needle so dramatically. I could be wrong. Readers will probably say so. His lack of value across the league is cause for concern.
ii. Normy might be on the move again
We doooo need another bench scorer. Goran meets the salary. How much more we gotta put in? Normy’s probably a hot commodity, but wouldn’t that be soooo romantic !?
iii. Boucher for sale
Despite Toronto looking to improve, Boucher is available, likely, because of his expiring contract. I get it from a business sense, but, of late, he’s played exactly as Toronto needs (see below).
iv. Gary Harris is available
Everyone’s talking about Terrence Ross for our team.
I’ve changed my mind pls forgive me
— Esfandiar | Es (@JustEsBaraheni) January 12, 2022
No. No. And. No. Es got lit up for this. I really just don’t see why we’d give anything up at all for a guy who can get hot every once and a while, but doesn’t really do much else for you. Why is he still on a Magic team that completely tore it down 12 months ago? Hmm?
How about another Gary?
He’s an expiring, might be that third guard kinda scorer, definitely, defender off the bench. He’s young. If we like what we see, maybe a cheaper contract moving forward? He and Goran match in salary.
I SWEAR I thought of this before I saw this post, so, at least, I’m not alone in the idea. Es redeemed his Ross idea.
Would much rather do this and add a 2nd or something
— Esfandiar | Es (@JustEsBaraheni) January 13, 2022
Though, I didn’t think about the Mo Bamba part. Interestinggggg…
Anyway, we’ll have lots of trade content incoming, this was just a taster to make you excited, upset, or to get the creative juices flowin’.
5. Boucher-king it up
It took a while. It’s like the time you run away from home thinking, “I don’t need nobody no more,” and then 3 hours later, in some park, you’re hungry and cold and go home and get in your bed and think to yourself that you’ll never, ever, take your house or family for granted (until you do it again) again.
That’s basically what Chris did. He thought it was time to go on his own. He was wrong.
I understand why he thought so. He had a breakout year last year. Naturally, 2021/22 would be bigger and better. Contract year; time to get paid.
Chris thought that. Management didn’t. They had just acquired Precious and drafted Scottie. He watched as propaganda raged over these two young’uns and the team’s future designs had them at their core.
First child complex. How dare management let a ROOKIE be Toronto’s saviour while Pascal is out? Chris’ll show them.
That confidence can be good, but you gotta do it within your means. Chris went beyond them. In 9 games, he averaged 6 points / 4 boards / on 41% true shooting. It wasn’t just the numbers, but it was his general lack of defence and hustle – what got him paid in the first place – and penchant for poor shots. Nurse benched him.
For the next 3 games, he played 7, 9, and 7 minutes.
Chris talked about his struggles openly and explained that he was “rediscovering himself” through game film and meditation:
Chris Boucher says he is playing with better energy now. Says the bench group worked because they had length and energy. Says he understands people are upset with his play but he does a lot of film and mental work to improve
— Oren Weisfeld (@OrenWeisfeld) December 6, 2021
Boucher says he does a lot of meditation including before the game to clear his head. Says meditating before the game is new. Says he thinks he can help this team and is working at it
— Oren Weisfeld (@OrenWeisfeld) December 6, 2021
I honour the introspection, I do. I think it’s simpler than that though.
Chris went back to what he’s good at.
Precious and Chris on D and rebounding: pic.twitter.com/ZSBBsm1ScB
— The Gentle Watch (@AdonMoss) January 12, 2022
He started playing more minutes after the benching and showed glimpses of his old self. Then, November 24th, Khem Birch’s knee flared and Nurse had no choice, but to go back to Chris. An opportunity for redemption.
Check his numbers pre- and post-Birch injury:
Pre: 17 games / 14 minutes / 6 points / 4 rebounds / 0.6 steals / 0.6 blocks / 44.7% true shooting / -1 net rating
Post: 18 games / 22 minutes / 11 points / 6.6 rebounds / 0.6 steals / 1.1 blocks / 59% true shooting / 4.4 net rating
Chris can’t afford to not bust his ass on both ends. He can’t afford to not crash boards, not play disciplined defence, and jack shots willy-nilly. He got paid doing grunt work. And he’s awesome at it. The rest has to come naturally and patiently.
I think Chris thought the path to a better payday was to look more dynamic as a self-creator. He gambled thinking he could do more. He lost. Ironically, he’ll probably get paid more just working harder and smarter. I think he and his agent figured that out too.
The biggest changes: his shot selection and hustle.
Pre-Birch, 39% of Boucher’s shots were early or very early in the shot clock, 49% of his shots were less than 10 feet, and 18% of his shots he held on to the ball for 2 seconds or more. He made only 11 passes a game.
Since then, 32% of Boucher’s shots are early or very early in the shot clock, 56% of his shots are less than 10 feet, and 10% of his shots he held on to the ball for 2 seconds or more. Mr. Generous is up to 20 passes a game.
Since the benching, Boucher’s shooting later, closer, and more in rhythm. He’s also sharing, deflecting, screening, and contesting more shots all while competing at his highest level. To the point of utter exhaustion:
— David Mai (@dmai21) January 8, 2022
(A bit dramatic, Chris.)
In other words, Boucher’s playing for the team not for himself.
Honestly, I wanted him traded ASAP as possible. Now, I’m not so sure we can make a playoff run without him (depending on the returns). He plays with this kind of edge the rest of the season and he’s gonna get paid a chunk o’ cash by someone somewhere.