1. It’s no secret that the Raptors are weak on offence. They have played enough defence to be 3-0 at the start of the year, but their offence has been inept in two of the first three games. This is where the team misses Pascal Siakam the most, because for as much as fans were disappointed in his performances since the start of the pandemic, the simple fact is that he is Toronto’s best offensive player. He pressures the rim, he commands double teams, he gets to the line, and when he is on the floor, everyone else can settle into more comfortable roles as secondary players. Truthfully, the Raptors would still be just average in halfcourt offence with Siakam, but even average would have them undefeated to start.
2. Dallas found the counter to Toronto’s strategy. By giving the ball to Luka Doncic every trip down, slowing the game down to a crawl, and letting Doncic handle it at the top of the floor, the Raptors just couldn’t create the type of havoc they rely on to fuel their transition game. The Raptors forced Dallas into only nine turnovers as a team, which capped their transition opportunities where they scored a measly 12 fast-break points. It’s not as if the Raptors weren’t aware of this, as they tried different schemes such as trapping Doncic or pressuring full court, but the MVP candidate expertly cut the home team apart each time it tried to dupe him. The good thing is that most teams don’t have a singular talent as efficient as Doncic, so they will still be able to use their defence to supplement for their weak offence.
3. It would be interesting to play Dallas again with a healthy roster. The only way that teams have slowed down Doncic has been to play five wings at once and to switch everything — which is how the LA Clippers beat them twice in the playoffs — and the Raptors do have the personnel to pull it off. With a healthy Siakam and Yuta Watanabe at their disposal, the Raptors could have cut out the two weakest points of their defence — Goran Dragic and Khem Birch — and gone to a smallball lineup. Dallas doesn’t have one-on-one creators outside of Doncic, and their bigs aren’t skilled enough to punish mismatches, so switching allows you to keep Doncic in front. And sure, he will probably still have 30 points against that strategy, but you can survive that so long as he doesn’t also contribute double-digit assists.
4. OG Anunoby finally arrived, at least for the first half. Anunoby was a one-man wrecking crew to start, throwing down a two-handed jam over seven-foot-three Kristaps Porzingis, smartly cutting backdoor for a layup, knocking in a midrange shot, and sinking a pair of corner threes all in the first quarter. Anunoby made the right reads, resisting the temptation to force his shot, and his efficiency soared as compared to the 3-for-17 and 4-for-18 showings he produced earlier in the week. However, Anunoby ran into two issues. First, he battled foul trouble as a number of soft calls went against him, which limited his minutes and undercut his aggression. Second, the Mavericks did a much better job of denying him the ball in the second half, and it resulted in him being passive and out of the play. Just as with previous games, finding the right balance will take time.
5. Scottie Barnes waited too long to take over. Similar to Anunoby, Barnes also battled foul trouble, which comes with the territory of getting assigned to covering Doncic, and that limited his time along with a minor quad contusion which briefly sent him back to the locker room. Still, the Raptors were badly in need of a spark offensively, and Barnes proved capable towards the end of the fourth. Barnes had the play of the game where he decisively attacked the basket, easily blowing past his man before exploding for a two-handed jam, and he generally was able to force his way to the basket with a handful of other moves. Barnes is humble, and this being just his third professional game, he hasn’t wanted to call his own number just yet but the Raptors should give him that permission to try, particularly while they are in need during Siakam’s absence. Barnes is already physical enough to get to his spots, and has shown good touch and length to get his shots off by the basket. Why not establish him early on as one of the focal points of the offence, instead of waiting until the second half?
6. Nick Nurse flat-out benched Chris Boucher in the second half. It wasn’t without cause, as Boucher’s shot selection was even worse than usual as he hoisted five shots in eight minutes. Nurse was blunt in his post-game assessment, saying Boucher needed to “play better, period” which is really the long and short of it. Boucher is the fourth-longest tenured player on the team, and he has proven to be productive in previous seasons, but he hasn’t provided the offensive spark the Raptors have needed off the bench. Boucher has been single-minded in his push to score, even going as far as running pick and rolls and firing on the move, which aren’t his strengths. The lack of scoring off the bench was one of the main reasons behind the Raptors’ loss.
7. Dragic was invisible off the bench. In all fairness to the veteran, he typically needs a decent big to pair with in pick-and-roll sequences, and Boucher has been struggling while Birch just isn’t skilled enough to be that involved offensively, but this is also on Dragic. He hasn’t shown the desire or willingness to drive hard into the paint, opting largely for turnaround jumpers or to reset the attack when the onus is really on him to create. He is capable of so much more than what he has shown thus far, and although he is only temporarily here due to the accounting in the Kyle Lowry trade, he is still on a contract year. It’s mutually beneficial for Dragic to succeed.
8. And if he doesn’t, it won’t be long until Nurse turns to Malachi Flynn. The Raptors have badly needed scoring in two of their three games, yet Flynn has been stapled to the bench. There isn’t any loyalty owed to Dragic beyond the standard respect you give to a veteran, which should cover him for a few weeks, but it’s only acceptable for Dragic to eat into the development time over a younger player if he is contributing towards wins. Flynn is hardly perfect in his own right, but he has shown in spurts that he is capable of getting his own shot, and that he deserves a chance to try at the very least. The only downside with Flynn is that he is small and he can only play the point, but it’s not as if Dragic has done much to stop anyone, either.
9. Dragic spent almost the entirety of pre-game chatting with members of the Mavericks. First it was with the gentle giant Boban Marjanovic, then it was a lengthy chat with assistant Igor Kokoskov, who coached Slovenia to its most recent Eurobasket win with Dragic at the helm, then he was greeted by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, before finally chopping it up with Doncic. These interactions spanned for over an hour and it’s obvious that he holds many of them dearly. There’s nothing wrong any of this, but it does seem to be clear why all the reports suggest that Dragic will end up in Dallas sooner or later.
10. The Raptors would greatly benefit from having a centre that can stretch the floor. It’s been apparent in all three games where the Raptors have had to break down a packed paint because there is nobody that opposing teams will guard beyond the paint. Precious Achiuwa is too inconsistent from deep, Boucher is just chucking more than anything else, and nobody is worried in the slightest about Birch hitting the occasional look from the corner. The answer for Nurse might be to downsize altogether and play without a centre, although that would again require one more wing to be healthy between Watanabe and Siakam. Beyond that, there just aren’t great options on this roster and it will need to be addressed through trade.