Toronto heads into the All-Star break half a game back of 6th at 32-25. Before we go celebrate Freddy V conquering the 3-point contest, I have observations.
1. Gary to the Rim
Slowly, Gary’s game expands. Kinda like that voracious evil planet in The Fifth Element. Everyone’s watching, seeing it grow, not realizing the danger until it’s too late [except, of course, Masai].
This year, GTJ’s taken huge steps to establish consistent mid-range and 3-point shooting. He’s nearly already surpassed his number of shots taken from last year while shooting higher percentages in both – 72nd percentile and 79th percentile respectively among NBA wings.
So many of his takes, as a fan, make me squeamish. For the better part of this season, though, they’ve cashed – I put the Gravol back down and go back to my Peptol Bismol.
Gary can’t stay hot forever; teams adjust. Ball defenders play tighter, fighting over screens and following Gary on curls, screen defenders stay home (Gary’s less likely to dish), and helpside worries little about the paint.
Now, it’s Gary’s turn to adapt. With everyone in the arena thinking he’s going to shoot, the rim is there for the taking.
Gary took 99 shots at the rim last year in 58 games. The year before 51 in 60 games. His wheelhouse is pull-ups and fades. He prefers to get defenders in a tizzy, on their back heels (or not), and spontaneously rise up than he does going through or past guys.
That’s starting to change, particularly of late. Leading up to February, only 19% of Gary’s points were in the paint, that’s vaulted to 28% in February (10 games). Points from the midrange (approx. -9%) and three-point line (approx. -10%) have dropped. 35 of his 79 shots in the restricted area have been in the last 11 games. A substantial shift.
Not all are in the half-court – 18% of his points are of fast break variety, many end up as lay-ups – but you can still see a progression towards the rim at an increasing rate of success:
November: 1.8 attempts | 57%
December: 0.8 attempts | 57%
January: 1.7 attempts | 53%
February: 3 attempts | 63%
So often, Gary shoots when he sees a gap or a latent step by a defender. Defenders overcompensate charging closeouts and staying closer on drives. That opens lanes for Gary.
Choosing a direct path to the rim is (A) unanticipated and (B) more beneficial to Gary and the team in the grander scheme forcing teams to readjust and scramble. Leading to Gary’s next progression: passing.
These four takes, for example, aren’t the worst. 2022 Gary makes those. There’s a more optimal shot. Play Where’s OG in each possession. He’s almost always there waiting and open.
2. Matty Giggles
Matty D’s grown on me game-by-game, year-by-year. I listen to A LOT of local broadcasts. Honestly, I have no reason to be bias, so many just stink. Matt and Jack are, at the least, very entertaining.
Jack is Jack. I’ve written about him probably too many times. He’s full of quips, anecdotes, and meanderings. He monopolizes Matty D’s ad reads innocently; Matt chuckles after listening to Jack yammer on about who knows what.
Matt, at first, feels white bread to me. Underneath that translucent veneer is a spunky:
About Josh Giddey and Scottie Barnes, “It’s one thing to get those numbers on a losing team, it’s another to do it on a winning team”
joyous character (this was back when he lost his voice):
I guess it just took me a while to warm up to him or he’s changed or now that the cardboard cut-out of Leo Rautins is folded up I can finally lower my cackles. I also think Jack catalyzes him.
Lately, it’s Matty’s giggles that have made me smile. Only dogs hear it entirely. Alvin’s had a few jokes that make Matty “he he he”. They’re genuine but might be a bit louder to cover for Alvin’s…style. It’s Jack that makes Matty giggle raucously.
Jack has never failed to take a shot at how poorly Sportsnet or the Toronto Raptors or Scotiabank Arena or all three have treated him when he’s broadcasting games remotely from there.
“It’s cold”, “there’s no water”, “no hot dogs”, obviously, no beer. Matt knows better than to rouse his superiors. Doesn’t mean he won’t giggle about it and hit a high pitch squeal like a greasy axel.
Jack is one of Statler and Waldorf; Matty’s Kermit trying to keep everything hunky-dory.
3. Thad Young Offensive Package
It’s been two games. I was all-in on the Thad acquisition the second Woj/Shams piecemeal-reported the trade. I’ve gawked over his playmaking prowess in the past.
In the last two games, particularly against Minnesota, Thad’s shown how much he can spice our very bland bench. It’s simple stuff. There’s the single-line drives where Thad’s first step gets him by slower bigs and who’s Gladiatorial jousting shoulders, hulking frame, and pipes-for-arms carves lanes and creates uncontestable lay-ups.
These three plays exemplify Thad’s unique skillset. He’s much stronger and more coordinated in his drives than our other “bigs”. The first, is a downhill tornado not even Paul Bunyan could slow. Jaden McDaniels’ lesser frame is fodder for Thad’s mortar and pestle arms. A slower Naz Reid, an easy blowby.
Equally encouraging is how Thad creates room and space by cutting. Thad possesses superb timing and the ability to find paint vacancies. Elite cutting is as good as solid spot-up shooting.
A heliocentric force like Pascal or Freddy sucks helpside into their orbit. The best pass is to the cross-court spot-up shooter for 3 – easier said than done. A trampling wildebeest with the hands of a sculptor barreling down the lane is a much simpler option.
Thad functions as a cornerback in the opposite. He’s always watching the ball and counterbalancing by finding open space. The 2nd clip, where he baseline cuts behind JV, is a great example of Thad watching and moving with the play’s progression. As are the following two plays: Thad slow-builds to a sprint down the lane as Pascal picks up steam and draws a 2nd defender – PASCAL’S PASSING IS SWEETER BY THE DAY.
These are ways Thad can strengthen the Raptors anemic bench – he led them with a +16 on Wednesday – and help the other 6’9″ers improve their own games.
Thad’s 0-2 from 3 thus far. That’s okay. In the three years, where he took 2 or more attempts a game, Thad shot roughly 33.5% – the year he took 3.5 a game he shot 35%!
4. Freddie the Vulcan
If basketball intersects with Sci-Fi, it must be highlighted.
Live long and prosper to you all.
5. OG Exhaustion
OG’s our baby.
I know there are younger on the team – Babyface Barnes, MalaConsternation Flynn, Dalano, JC, and so on. But OG’s the interminable “young’un”. Even when he’s 30, he’ll be our baby. That’s just how it is.
Besides, in basketball terms, OG’s the teenage son who’s just about to go to college and still has that awkward duck fuzz goofiness to him. I mean, what does this remind you of?
Is that not every high school/university student waking up, having slept in/is hungover, running for the bus with 5 minutes before class to spare? I’ve watched this 30 times and am pretty sure Pascal folds over in utter laughter seeing OG panic sprint for the game he thinks he’s missing.
On the court, same thing. There’s an innocence to OG. You see flashes of killer instinct, of him maturing into his own Destroyer of Worlds, but who still needs a ride home at 11.
That’s why when you see the exhaustion exuding from OG, you know it’s the real deal. He’s too proud to let on that he’s ailing – unlike Chris Boucher who wants the world to know his plight.
I know, OG’s a slow-moving athlete. A prowling, looming, hovering predator lulling your first-pass into a false sense of security and fooling you into thinking 1-on-1 in the post is manageable. So, it’s hard to tell when OG’s really, actually, moving slow.
The last few games though, I think the wear-and-tear and 40 mins/game is catching up to him – and, likely, the team.
His stats, in the last 4, suggest so:
- 5/13, 4/16, 1/5, and 4/11 from the field.
- Over the season: 59% of his shots are from 1 dribble or less on roughly 58% effective field goal; last 4: 71% of his shots and 45 eFG% – AKA he’s moving and attacking less.
- His distance-travelled and average speeds at both ends of the court have dropped.
- He averages 5.5 rebounds/game; in the three wins against ATL, CHI, and OKC he grabbed 10, 9, and 10 boards. The last four: 4, 5, 2, and 1.
Let me be clear, I DO NOT BLAME HIM. OG busts his ass and, literally, guards the other team’s best/biggest/tallest/largest/quickest/fastest/longest players. It’s a cause for concern, not criticism.
OG battles JV, which, to be fair, is like wrestling a two-headed rhinoceros. The possession switches and OG “transitions” to offence slower than me stumbling home at 5am after too many of this and one-too-many of those.
OG’s literally using his head to pull his body forward – hoping that the increase in mass x inertia x velocity will inch him further along? He, then, stops “jogging” and walks to his spot where he stands, for the majority of the play until he gets a kick out and misses the open 3. Then barely gets back.
[UPDATE: I wrote this prior to the Minnesota game, OG looked a bit livelier. I might attribute that to Pat “The Pest” Beverley getting under OG’s skin.
I’m torn on the whole “use your starting 5 for the entirety of the 100 Year War” approach. If we don’t, season’s a wash. But when a 23-year old peak athlete can barely pull his ass over half-court, I start relitigating the strategy in my head over and over again.
Thank God for Spring Break.
Gary the Wildling
Is that Direwolf fur? Are we sure Gary Sr. didn’t see time North of the Wall cleaving ice zombies with a two-bladed axe?
Pat the Pest
Some people are motivated intrinsically, some extrinsically. Everyone’s motivated by someone trying to piss on your boot – even if it’s in the jumpball circle.
The boys were in a bit of a funk and Pat singlehandedly got them – Gary and Scottie, in particular – fired up and locked in.
Khem’s had a tough 2021-22 thus far.
First, a swollen knee – he missed 14 games. Then COVID protocols – add 2 omissions. Khem started to play again in January and get his legs back, averaging about 20 minutes through 7 games. Then WHAMMO walloped on the schnozz and on to the operating table for a fractured sniffer.
He’s finally back, and healthy and playing like the centre we never needed to trade for.