One -- The Raptors keep coming up short. As soon as they find a way to shore up their defence, they begin to struggle with their offence. That's the sign of a team that just doesn't have enough to compete at the moment. The Raptors really only have seven dependable players in the first place and three of them are out. It's too much to ask of third-stringers to be even half-decent second unit reserves.
The results are frustrating, but it's not unexpected in the slightest. This is now the youngest team in the league with Goran Dragic not on the scene, and they very much play like it. You can't play as many inexperienced players as the Raptors do and expect consistent results. It's going to take a lot of patience to follow this team while they battle injuries.
Two -- Scoring looks impossible at times for the Raptors, especially against big frontcourts. The Grizzlies had the two beefiest players in the game with Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Raptors couldn't overcome their size in the paint. Again, the Raptors have no spacing threat in the frontcourt which is an open invitation for opposing teams to camp out in the middle to cut off driving lanes, and so long as the defence can bottle up Fred VanVleet, it's a wrap for the rest of the offence.
If Drake were to rap about the Raptors offence, the track would be titled "5 p.m. on Highway 401." This is not something that will improve until the Raptors upgrade the frontcourt, which they have resisted for two consecutive off-seasons.
Three -- Precious Achiuwa continues to swing wildly in his performances. Achiuwa was one of the biggest positives in the last meeting against Memphis, pouring in 17 points in the third quarter to spark the comeback. But he was an entirely different player tonight, struggling in every aspect of the game in 29 empty minutes before fouling out. In all fairness to Achiuwa, the Grizzlies extended Adams' minutes since he had 50 pounds on the smaller defender, but Achiuwa was getting rag-dolled on every loose ball or play at the rim.
Offensively, Achiuwa missed every shot except for a lob dunk courtesy of VanVleet, and his 1-for-8 stat line is especially damming considering that he isn't guarded a majority of the time. Achiuwa is missing the basics like angling his screens to free the ball handlers, and his cutting and movement aren't clever enough to make himself open for the pass. The Raptors clearly valued him highly, going as far as spending $19 million on three games of Dragic, so they will continue to give Achiuwa chances.
Four -- This was a rare off night for VanVleet. It's not so much what he did wrong, as much as he wasn't brilliant and playing above his level. The Grizzlies had an extra defender back to cut off his drives, while basketball's equivalent of Wario in Dillon Brooks was hounding VanVleet all game, and when you also factor in Achiuwa being a total dud as a pick-and-roll partner, it was hardly a surprise to see VanVleet quieted.
That being said, he's faced the same uphill battles all season and he has produced, so this showing does stand out. You have to wonder when exhaustion catches up to him, because he's the league leader in minutes and the Raptors need him to play out of his mind to compete. How sustainable is that over the course of a season? VanVleet can't even have one pedestrian game without the offence completely collapsing.
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— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 1, 2021
Five -- Pascal Siakam's production came down to his matchup. When he was matched against Jaren Jackson Jr., Siakam couldn't get his shot off as he neither had the quickness advantage nor the edge in length. Jackson Jr. blocked him and forced Siakam into a handful of hopeless misses. But in the moments where Siakam had Brandon Clarke or Kyle Anderson on him, he immediately went to work in the post and was able to twist and twirl his way to the basket. At one point he had three straight baskets on Anderson after Jackson Jr. picked up his fifth foul, but the scoring dried up immediately after he returned.
On the flip side, Siakam was limited by foul trouble of his own, picking up his fourth foul early in the fourth, and his fifth immediately after checking back into the game. This was hardly a bad game for Siakam, as it's becoming routine to see him produce, but just not at a level where he can take over the game, which leaves him as a B-level star. If those were the expectations for him, then he's right where you want him to be. But if you want more, then that's where frustrations begin.
Six -- The Raptors should look for a floor-spacing centre to help VanVleet and Siakam. They are willing passers, and in both cases, they are most adept at making the kickout to open shooters. Siakam in particular can be very effective when he's free to attack one-on-one, but most of the time he will see the centre rotating over in the paint. Of the players on the roster, the one who comes closest to filling that bill is Scottie Barnes, who is absolutely not a centre, nor is he spacing the floor much, but he is big enough to handle most post players, and the shot is coming around. Barnes is 10-of-21 from three over his last five games since Nick Nurse publicly gave him the green light to fire, and the Raptors have been increasingly open to Barnes playing as the de facto centre, particularly with the second unit.
Seven -- Yuta Watanabe is the only bench player who is reliable at the moment. Watanabe's defence is always sharp, and while he didn't collect a steal or block, his impact was most evident in the 5-for-18 shooting performance of Brooks. Watanabe was the primary defender on Brooks despite coming off the bench, and he was effective in limiting him all night with how he pressured the ball and stayed in the play.
Offensively, the only expectation for Watanabe is that he knocks down open shots and that he mixes in a cutting layup or a putback, and the shot looked sharp Tuesday. He looked overextended when the Raptors were having him run around for his shot like Klay Thompson, but on standstill catch-and-shoot or even trailing jumpers, Watanabe is accurate. The fact that he was able to play 29 minutes is encouraging since he was previously capped at 14 minutes in his last showing in his return from a calf injury.
Eight -- Nurse benched Svi Mykhailiuk in favour of Malachi Flynn. It's a strange move in the sense that the two guards serve entirely different functions on offence, but Nurse presumably wanted the dual point guard look in hopes of freeing VanVleet as an off-ball option since he wasn't able to create much against Brooks in pick-and-roll settings.
Flynn does provide more ball-handling, but where he came up short was on his shotmaking. Flynn had so many open chances that were semi-contested at best, but he couldn't knock them down until his seventh attempt. What's really confounding about Flynn is that he looks the part as a decent shooter in terms of his form and the consistency is there in warmups, but it doesn't translate over to the games. It's almost as if he's paranoid, either that he's afraid to be yanked if he misses, or that he's going to get his shot blocked since he's short. Either way, confidence is lacking.
Nine -- Chris Boucher got one shift in the second half after being skipped in the rotation for a second game. Boucher played seven minutes starting at the end of the third quarter, checking in to replace Siakam who battled foul trouble, and he did look noticeably more active which is what Nurse wanted. Boucher got free for a dunk on an inbound play to beat the clock, and popped free for a lob.
There's no doubt that he can score if he's going full speed, even if his throw-in-style jumper isn't dropping, and it mostly comes down to his determination in attacking the basket. Even though he hasn't performed up to standards, and even though Nurse has benched him a handful of times, there will still be chances for Boucher to regain his spot in the rotation because of the Raptors' injuries.
Ten -- Isaac Bonga isn't ready offensively but he holds his own on defence. His ability to read the game allows him to use his length and quickness to good effect as a help defender, and he's not shabby in guarding the ball just because he's so long. The Raptors used a zone defence for extended stretches in the second quarter and Bonga didn't look out of place in his assignments. Offensively, however, Bonga needs to be more prepared.
On one play, he didn't have his feet set when the kickout pass reached his hands, so he fired up a missed jumper with both feet straddling the three-point line. The next trip down, Bonga did catch it behind the arc at the exact same spot on the left wing, but didn't opt to take the shot and drove instead into traffic. The path for Bonga to find minutes would be to copy what Watanabe does.