One -- OG Anunoby continues to be a revelation. He recognizes the opportunity before him with Pascal Siakam out to start the season, and he's acting like the man of the house. Anunoby flat-out bullied the Rockets to start with a stepback three over Rockets center Christian Wood, a steal leading to a leak out where he was fouled, then he blocked Wood at the rim while also recovering the loose ball to trigger another fast break sequence. The Rockets trailed 9-0 after two minutes and were forced to call timeout as Anunoby utterly dominated them in every facet.
Two -- But it only got worse for the Rockets. Anunoby channeled his malice onto rookie center Alperen Sengun, who will be seeing himself on highlight reels across sports television and on social media. On their first meeting, Anunoby caught the pass on the catch and made a hard move to the rim, where Sengun tried to throw his 7-foot, 250-pound frame in the way, but Anunoby was so strong that Sengun bounced from one end of the lane to the other as Anunoby cleared out an open dunk.
A few minutes later, Anunoby tormented Sengun once again by stringing the helpless rookie out to the perimeter, selling him the drive to his left, before crossing back over to his right. Sengun bit so hard on the fake that his back was turned as Anunoby drove inside for the easy layup.
Three -- Anunoby will catch plenty of players off-guard in his new form. For one, players still aren't cluing into how good Anunoby has become as a shooter, and they're still leaving him space to fire. Anunoby has worked diligently on perfecting his shot in quickening his release, while also adding more arc to his shot which is allowing him to shoot from deeper.
And when he drives, Anunoby now has a more functional handle which is feeding into his existing power game in the post. Tonight he bodied a 7-footer down low, and the other night Anunoby took two Celtics with him as he muscled his way for a two-handed dunk.
Four -- Precious Achiuwa continues to be productive in the starting lineup. He's showcasing what he can do in comparison to his rookie season in Miami, where he was limited to rebounding and finishing on the roll. Achiuwa has demonstrated an ability to play in transition, where he pairs explosive athleticism with a level of body control that is rare for someone of his size.
Achiuwa also had his way with Rockets center Daniel Theis, who infamously burned the Raptors in their 2020 series against the Boston Celtics. Achiuwa is able to get his shot off in most situations, and while he does take some ill-advised shots, Achiuwa is a legitimate problem for most centers who have to keep up with him in the open floor.
Five -- Achiuwa should continue to start for the time being. Khem Birch finally got his first shift having contracted COVID-19 prior to training camp, and it's no surprise to see him still catching up with his conditioning.
When healthy, there will be a reasonable debate between Birch and Achiuwa in the starting lineup, with the argument for Birch being that he's more sound defensively and slightly stronger against post players. But Achiuwa also offers higher upside with his ball skills and his edge in speed and athleticism over Birch. For the time being, with Birch still shaking off the rust, the spot should stay with Achiuwa who has been productive in every preseason game.
Six -- Svi Myhkailiuk and Gary Trent Jr. have a nice thing going with the second unit. Trent Jr. got the start tonight with veteran guard Goran Dragic getting the night off, but Trent Jr. still got plenty of burn with the reserves, and it continues to be a productive pairing with him and Mykhailiuk. The two of them are both premium shooters who space the floor, but they can also get their own shot if necessary.
Having both shooters around Scottie Barnes has been a great combination that has swung a few second quarters in Toronto's favour. Mykhailiuk and Trent Jr. offer similar skillsets, and it's almost like a competition to see who can put more points on the board when they share the floor. They even paired up for the pregame warmups, which made for an exciting shooting contest.
Seven -- Dalano Banton is a dark horse candidate to crack the rotation. Banton is unorthodox, but has proven to be an effective contributor across the board. Banton was in the rotation ahead of presumed backup point guard Malachi Flynn, and while Banton isn't the type of playmaker that has it every trip down, he offers advantages elsewhere.
For example, Banton found himself guarding Wood on two possessions in the post, where Wood thought he would have an edge down low against a guard, except Banton held his ground, reached his seven-foot wingspan to the sky, and coaxed Wood into two misses at the basket. On the other end, Banton was often the first man down the floor which led to three fast-break layups that made up the bulk of his scoring.
Eight -- Banton's effectiveness in transition is by design. One of the advantages of playing so many six-foot-eight athletes is that when the Raptors get a stop, they suddenly have huge mismatches in transition against the opposing team's guards.
For example, Banton got a transition layup because he was racing down the floor while the Rockets only had 6-foot-3 guard Kevin Porter Jr. racing back with him, and so Banton was able to easily finish over top. The same effect happens with Barnes, who is also often guarding point guards. The more the Raptors can flip possession on a live ball, the more they can profit off their size advantage.
Nine -- Malachi Flynn made his case for minutes, even though he was third-string. Flynn continues to be an afterthought in Nurse's rotation, playing once again with the third stringers, but at least Flynn made his mark. He came alive in the second half, knocking down three triples and making a handful of impressive drives cutting through Houston's porous defence.
Flynn is somewhat falling victim to the Raptors' ideological shift towards positionless basketball since Flynn is very much exclusively a point guard, but that doesn't mean he isn't a valuable contributor. Flynn is a scoring point guard with some decent passing chops, but it can't be a good sign that he was third string even on a night where Dragic sat. It makes you wonder what he needs to do to crack the rotation.
Ten -- Nick Nurse smartly held VanVleet and Anunoby out for the second half. He will do the same in their final preseason game against Washington. Not only is it a back-to-back (which is wholly unnecessary in preseason) but the Raptors will see Washington on opening night so there's no sense in tipping their hand.
However, this does give the end-of-bench players a good shot to showcase themselves. The Raptors have committed to Yuta Watanabe in one of their three open roster spots, but the last two are very much up for grabs.