Not Time to Hit the Panic Button in Toronto
The Toronto Raptors are 25-13, lead the Atlantic division, and are second place in the Eastern conference. On Tuesday evening, they faced a tough test. The visiting Boston Celtics came in having won six of their last seven games with terrific play coming from stars Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. Toronto, meanwhile, was reeling, having lost five of their last seven games. However, the resilient Raptors battled, and were led by their three best players in defeating the Celtics. DeMar DeRozan went off for a season-high 41 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, Jonas Valanciunas picked up 18 points and a monstrous 23 rebounds, while floor general Kyle Lowry played a game-high 42 minutes, had 24 points, and shot five-for-six from three-point range. This win was a statement for the Raptors, and a reminder that this team can compete with anyone when they play their best.
Over the past few weeks, and even earlier in the season, trade talks have swirled around the Toronto Raptors. Recently, talks were concerning pending free agent Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks. Millsap has taken on the star role for the Hawks, and has been producing at nearly 18 points per game (PPG) and over 8 rebounds per game (RPG) this season. Millsap is a complete veteran and would fill the void the Raptors have at the power forward position. Here is what people forget. The Toronto Raptors took care of their void at the power forward position this summer, when they signed Jared Sullinger. You need to remember injuries have kept him out of the lineup, but Sullinger is set to resume practice next week and return in the foreseeable future. It is important to get use out of the assets you own, so before making a brash decision such as trading away Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson or first round draft picks, the Raptors should see what Sullinger can do. Sullinger averaged 10.8 PPG and 8.3 RPG playing only 23.6 minutes a night. These numbers are pretty good: Sullinger’s production per 48 minutes averaged 20.9 PPG and 16.9 RPG. Sullinger is incredibly productive when on court. With depth at the power forward position, ranging from veteran Patrick Patterson to young upstart Pascal Siakam, the Raptors can mix and match as they wish.
Many are saying the Raptors need to win now, which is not true. The Raptors are one of the five youngest teams in the league, at an average of 25 years old. DeRozan and Lowry are in the prime of their careers, and Valanciunas is a few steps away from being a “finished product”, as Dwayne Casey calls it. Arguments that Kyle Lowry’s age is an issue are futile, as Lowry is having the best season of his career offensively. As he gets older, his minutes will likely decrease. However, his efficiency will remain the same, and his playmaking may improve that much more as offensive weapons develop. On top of that, the Raptors backcourt bench is still developing. Fred Van Vleet impressed the Raptors enough to earn a contract this summer. Van Vleet played four years for the Wichita State Shockers, and won two Missouri Valley Conference player of the year awards. Van Vleet ran the offense for the Shockers, and in 12 games for Raptors 905 (The Raptors D-League affiliate), Van Vleet has averaged 16.7 PPG and 6.7 assist per game (APG). Both of those averages are the best on the 905. Within the next two years it is feasible Van Vleet takes some minutes away from Lowry.
The Raptors are able to compete with anyone when they are at their best. “Compete” is the key word here. Are they ready to win an NBA championship? Absolutely not. Will they beat Cleveland this year? It is dobutful, as Cleveland is just too deep, especially after acquiring long-ball specialist Kyle Korver. However, the three seasons following the 2016-17 season will likely be Toronto’s best chance to bring a championship to Canada. Their top priority this summer has got to be resigning Kyle Lowry, as he is truly the heart and engine of the Raptors. After Lowry is signed for 3-4 years, the Raptors can focus on filling their void at the power forward position, which could come in-house if they bring Sullinger back, or potentially via trade or free agency. If they are so interested in Millsap, he is a free agent this summer. The main point to take is that the Raptors have the potential to be contenders soon, but right now they are second set in second place. Getting Paul Millsap is not going to win them an NBA title. There is no point in throwing away developing players or draft picks for a rental. With that in mind, kick back, relax, and watch this team develop, because they are getting better and better every year. Their potential is through the roof, and Masai Ujiri (Raptors’ GM) is quietly building a team to make a run for an NBA Championship. I will put my word on the line here, and say that the Toronto Raptors will have been in the NBA Finals by the end of the 2020-21 NBA season. One thing is for sure: the team has not peaked yet. The Toronto Raptors are just getting started.
Top 5 NBA Power Rankings
- Warriors (33-6)
- Golden State is on top once again, proving better than the Cleveland Cavaliers as of late. However, this is not saying they have been error-free. They had an embarrassing loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday, where they blew a 24-point lead. On top of that, Head Coach Steve Kerr called out last year’s MVP Stephen Curry for his poor body language late in the game. Needless to say, not all is perfect in the Bay Area. But, the Warriors are lethal any and every night, and will need to be on top of their game come Monday when they take on the Cavaliers.
- Rockets (31-9)
- James Harden has overtaken Russell Westbrook in the MVP race. Harden’s Rockets are on another monstrous win streak at nine in a row. Through this nine-game stretch, Harden has averaged 32.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG and 11.4 APG, and been the commanding leader. Since December 1st, the Rockets are 20-2, and have beaten the Warriors, the Celtics, the Thunder twice, the Clippers, and the Raptors. Harden has reached his potential, and if he is playing this well come the playoffs the Rockets could truly go on a run.
- Cavaliers (28-9)
- The Cavaliers got rid of Mike Dunleavy and Mo Williams’ contracts for Kyle Korver, which is a great deal for them to fill JR Smith’s void. However, they have only looked okay for LeBron’s standards. King James has continued to carry the load, but his teammates have not been doing their part as Cleveland has lost to the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz within the last week. This is not the kind of run the Cavaliers should be on going into another matchup with the Golden State Warriors. LeBron and the Cavs will have two games out West to warm-up and get ready for the Warriors who will be looking for revenge for their Christmas Day loss.
- Spurs (30-8)
- San Antonio is 16-3 since December 1st and they have not lost a game by more than five points in that stretch. The Spurs have the 2nd best point differential in the NBA and, shoot free throws and three pointers more efficiently than anyone in the NBA. This offensive efficiency complements their fierce defense, led by Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs are one of three teams allowing less than 100 points per game. The Spurs’ defensive consistency will stand the test of time and be in full effect during the playoffs. Remember: in their one matchup with Golden State this year they wiped the floor with the Warriors beating, them by 29.
- Hawks (22-16)
- This rank probably surprises a lot of people, but I want to give a nod to the Hawks who despite trading Kyle Korver. Having taken Paul Millsap off the trade market, the Hawks have made it clear they want to win. The Hawks are on a seven-game win streak, which was highlighted by an overtime win over the Spurs. Millsap has gotten help from Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, who have taken some weight off of the power forward’s shoulders. Schroder’s workload has increased significantly, and his play has come a long way, putting himself in contention for the Most Improved Player of the Year award.
The Penalty Box
- The Calder race lost a big horse this past week. Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews had been going stride for stride this season. However, Laine hit a brick wall this weekend, as Buffalo Sabres’ defenseman Jake McCabe stepped up on Laine, giving him a concussion. The hit was clean, but the Jets did not take it lightly, with a brawl ensuing on the ice. While this brawl, ensued Laine lay on the ice and hockey fans held their breath. I am not upset about the hit, just the outcome, because Laine will miss a significant amount of time. Consequently, fans will miss watching this young gun’s fun play.
- Thumbs down to the NHL All-Star selection. The NHL picked four Blackhawks for this year’s all-star game, which is fine as the Blackhawks are one of the league’s top teams. However, my problem is with Jonathan Toews’ selection. Toews himself stated that he believed there were a handful of Blackhawks who were more deserving than him. The most notable omission, in my opinion, being Artemi Panarin who is 6th in points this season in the NHL. Stop picking faces, look at the statistics, and give Toews a holiday.
Stars of the Week
- 2017 has been a fresh start for Washington Capitals’ center Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov has eight points in five games, despite playing only 16 minutes a night. He is also at 50.9% on faceoffs in 2017, which is a drastic improvement on his 42.5% for the season. If Kuznetsov can continue to be lethal every night and continue his hot play into the postseason, the Capitals just might get over that 2nd round hump.
- In their last eight games the Vancouver Canucks have earned 13 of 16 possible points. Somehow, the Canucks now find themselves just outside of a wild card spot. Whether this is sustainable or not, it looks good on Canucks General Manager Jim Benning, who has remained optimistic about the Canucks’ odds of making the playoffs. Goaltender Ryan Miller is 5-0-1 in his last six starts, with a save percentage of .951 and a goals against average of 1.47. If the Canucks want to continue to win, Miller will likely need some more goal support, but Miller is playing some of his best hockey in years.
NFL First Down and Three & Out
First Down: Randall Cobb stepped up in a huge way for the Green Bay Packers after star wide receiver Jordy Nelson left their NFC Wild Card match-up on Sunday. Cobb caught five passes for over 100 yards, three of which were for touchdowns. Cobb had a below average regular season, but when quarterback Aaron Rodgers needed him most, he stepped up and delivered. As the Packers routed the Giants 38-13, setting up a date with the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday in Arlington, Texas.
Three & Out: The NFL’s concussion protocol really looked bad this weekend. Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Matt Moore was absolutely rocked by Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker Bud Dupree. Somehow, Moore came back after missing only one play, but came back looking quite off his game. The NFL has since launched a review of the actions taken by the Dolphins medical team. Below is the link for the hit.
What to watch this week?
- Wednesday: Penguins vs Capitals 8:00pm ET, Grizzlies vs Thunder 8:00pm ET
- Thursday: Bulls vs Knicks 8:00pm ET, Canadiens vs Wild 8:00pm ET, Blues vs Kings 10:30pm ET
- Friday: Blackhawks vs Capitals 7:00pm ET, Grizzlies vs Rockets 8:00pm ET, Celtics vs Hawks 8:00pm ET
- Saturday: Seahawks vs Falcons 4:35pm ET, Rangers vs Canadiens 7:00pm ET, Maple Leafs vs Senators 7:00pm ET, Texans vs Patriots 8:15pm ET, Flames vs Oilers 10:00pm ET
- Sunday: Steelers vs Chiefs 1:05pm ET, Packers vs Cowboys 4:40pm ET, Wild vs Blackhawks 7:00pm ET, Blues vs Ducks 9:00pm ET
- Monday: Capitals vs Penguins 7:00pm ET, Cavaliers vs Warriors 8:00pm ET, Thunder vs Clippers 10:30pm ET
- Tuesday: Stars vs Rangers 7:00pm ET
Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.