The Toronto Raptors enter the All-Star break on a losing note. Here are six takeaways from Wednesday night’s 117-112 loss to the Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
WIGGINS WORTH THE TOP PICK
Andrew Wiggins scored 26 points on 8-of-18 shooting, making 10-of-13 free throws and adding three rebounds in 37 minutes. None of it was forced. All of it was while guarding Toronto’s best wing player on defence.
Remember when there was a real conversation that Wiggins should be drafted third in 2014 behind Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid? Now he is far and away the best player to come out of the class.
Wiggins has had some rough patches shooting the ball this season, but he’s rounding into an impactful player on both ends without a high usage rate or much maintenance. Because he’s been in the spotlight since he was 13, Wiggins is easy to over-scrutinize, but relative to his contemporaries he’s progressing just fine.
UP AND DOWN RAPTORS
The Raptors truly play up or down to their opponent. They’ve given Golden State two of the toughest tests the Warriors have had all year. If it wasn’t for multiple suspect calls late in both games, Toronto could have swept the Warriors. The Raptors are 6-0 against the next five best teams in the West. However, they’re just 5-7 against the rest of the Western conference. They’ve now been swept by the Nuggets and Kings, and lost their first game against Minnesota. All three teams likely will miss the playoffs.
The Jekyll and Hyde aspect of the Raptors might be the most puzzling part of this incarnation of the team.
POWER FORWARD FUTURE
After a strong start, Luis Scola has hit a wall. The Raptors starting four man is minus-65 in 2016. Karl-Anthony Towns took him apart Wednesday night, forcing Scola into a minus-16 performance in just 18 minutes of play.
If anyone thinks the Raptors don’t need to solidify the power forward spot at the deadline to make a serious run, they might want to reconsider. The strength of Eastern Conference foes Cleveland, Atlanta and Boston is their power forward depth.
If not solidified, Toronto’s Achilles’ heel may come back to bite them.
Yes, the Raptors are going into the All-Star break on a bit of a sour note after blowing a lead in a game they were in full control of against a lesser opponent. However, unlike the reaction of many Raptors fans online, the sky isn’t completely falling.
Toronto is 35-17 and has won 14 of the last 16. They sit second in the East, just three back of Cleveland and 4.5 up on Boston. Despite missing two starters to injury for long stretches, the team has played well enough to be rewarded with two all-stars. If you proposed that scenario in the pre-season to any Raptors supporter — including Masai Ujiri or Dwane Casey — they’d gladly take it.
With a back-loaded home schedule, Toronto is in great position after performing above all expectations.
The Timberwolves are not bad; they are young. There is a difference. They play hard every night and create tough matchups. Call it tanking or call it rebuilding, they are a good example of why you need high lottery players to be a contender.
Minnesota’s pair of No. 1 overall picks combined for 61 points on 20 of 37 from the field Wednesday night. They both were in attack mode, getting to the line a combined 26 times. They play both ends of the floor and are good guys away from the gym. The vast majority of general managers would trade their current roster to have Minnesota’s young talent and flexibility.
As Toronto’s brass decides if this team can win signing DeMar DeRozan to a max extension this season and possibly Kyle Lowry the next, Minnesota knows they have two building blocks that look to be transformational players.
ALL-IN ON ALL-STAR COURT
If you thought the Raptors court was nice, you should see what MLSE has cooked up for the All-Star Game.
It is no coincidence their new practice facility has been unveiled this weekend. The franchise is using the weekend as a platform to showcase the first class state they’ve reached.
No stone has gone unturned.
The Timberwolves’ 43 free throws made tied a Raptors all-time record for free throws made in regulation. On Dec. 22, 2014, the Chicago Bulls also made 43.