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Toronto Raptors Roster Review – Wings

It’s incredibly difficult to acquire superstar players. Most organizations aren’t in major markets to get one through free agency. Even getting high draft picks isn’t a guarantee. Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri has always been a believer that you can find superstar talent later in the draft. He took Bruno Caboclo with the 20th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft – – a guy that most talent evaluators felt was far too raw to ever make it in the NBA. Masai saw the length and athleticism, and figured if he worked on his skills there might be something special. That didn’t pan out, but that didn’t stop him from taking chances in the draft process. Just two years later, in 2016, Masai made another gamble, this time on Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick of the 1st round. Siakam was also a raw prospect that didn’t start playing organized basketball until a later age, and he too had great length and athleticism. It’s safe to say that Masai hit that selection out of the park, and Siakam is a key reason why the Raptors, despite losing the reigning Finals MVP, still have a bright future as well as a strong team in the present. 

Siakam, after winning the Most Improved Player award last season, has inexplicably put himself in the MIP conversation yet again. The biggest improvement in his game this year is his three-point shooting. He’s upped his volume significantly – – from 2.7 attempts last season to 6.1 this year. He’s been able to do that while maintaining similar percentages mainly by improving his range. He was basically a corner specialist last season, shooting just 26 percent on above-the-break attempts. This year, he’s hitting 36 percent on those same shots. The ability to hit threes from anywhere on the court has been a huge step in Siakam’s ascension; we already saw the improvements in his ball handling a season ago, and those two skills are allowing him to be a primary creator and shot maker:

Last year, teams chose to defend Siakam with a center (most notably Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Semifinals). The added dimension of his three-point shot is making that a losing strategy. Defenders can’t afford to go under when he’s the ball handler in the pick-and-roll:

It’s made him a far greater threat off the ball as well:

With defenders now having to respect his perimeter jumper, that has opened things up for his drives, and he is so quick and long that he can get from the three-point line to the rim in a single dribble:

Even if he can’t get all the way to the rim, he has great touch converting through contact:

And yes, he still has his go-to spin move if the defender cuts off the initial attack:

All of this has led to Siakam garnering the respect of fellow players and coaches. He’s getting double teamed on a fairly consistent basis, and he’s making the right plays to create shots for his teammates:

That is truly the sign of a superstar in the making, when the mere threat of the player forces defensive rotations. And again, if you don’t double, he can score on just about anyone. Here he posts up Jimmy Butler, the Heat stay home, and Siakam patiently gets to his spot:

His usage is at 28.8 percent and he’s playing 36.8 minutes per game. You couldn’t blame him if the added workload impacted his play on the defensive end, but it really hasn’t. Toronto is 5th in defensive rating, and while they do have terrific defensive players on the roster, Siakam is the jack-of-all-trades, menacing force that teams can’t gameplan for:

Watch here as the Lakers draw up a nice set that involves Kyle Kuzma looking like he’s about the set a flare screen, only to slip to the rim. The pass from LeBron is on the money, and initially the design fools Siakam – – but his speed and length make up for being a step behind the action:

He’s disciplined in his help responsibilities, often denying the easy pass:

On this play, he is so quick in reacting to Fred VanVleet getting beat off the dribble that they are able to switch on the fly, forcing a turnover:

Siakam’s on/off numbers are staggering. The Raptors are 16.8 points better when he’s on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. He has vaulted into at least the top 20, maybe even top 15 players in the entire league – – and he may not be done improving. 

While Siakam has filled Kawhi Leonard’s offensive role, the Raptors still needed someone to fill the starting small forward spot in the lineup. The obvious choice was OG Anunoby. He unfortunately didn’t get to play in their playoff run last season, due to an emergency appendectomy in April, but he showed plenty of flashes in his first two seasons to be considered the front-runner for the job. He has been everything Head Coach Nick Nurse could have hoped for. The major improvement for OG, similar to Siakam, has been the three-point shot. He’s shooting 38 percent from downtown – – including 43 percent from the corners, per Cleaning the Glass:

In the Raptors blowout win over the Hornets in November, Anunoby had a career high 24 points on 4-7 from three. He even had a couple of side-step threes:

OG now has gravity, and defenders are running him off the line, especially in the corners. This is a key point in his development, as he now has opportunities to attack defenses and make the next play:

It’s been relatively encouraging so far. He is showing more aggressiveness as a driver, and his strong build allows him to finish through contact:

The game seems to be moving slower for him now, as he’s starting to show patience on drives, using hesitations and euro-step moves:

Watch here as he bullies Terry Rozier to the basket and finishes with his off hand:

Even the passing is coming around, his assist percentage is up from 4.9 last year to 8.8 percent through 21 games, per Cleaning the Glass:

Anunoby’s defense was never a question mark, most scouts expected him to be good on that end of the floor, and he hasn’t disappointed. His versatility is immensely valuable – – shown here as he defends Buddy Hield off screening action on one possession, then deals with Harrison Barnes on the block the next:

He’s so strong and he’s willing to put his body on the line for the team:

Anunoby is an above average starter, and considering he’s just 22 years old and only in his 3rd NBA season, that’s a major plus and another feather in Masai Ujiri’s cap. 

Norman Powell has been asked to start 13 of their 24 games thus far primarily due to Lowry’s extended absence. He has done a solid job filling in as a starter as well as bringing a scoring punch off the bench. He’s averaged 16 points a game in his starts. He’s posting a career high in two-point field goal percentage this season, at 57.1%, per Basketball Reference. He’s achieved that first and foremost by getting out in transition and getting easy buckets:

Here he shows off his strength by bodying up Porzingis before going coast-to-coast:

He’s hitting 70 percent of his shots at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass. He is a really good athlete, and he’s got enough agility to avoid charges when defenders try to block off his path to the basket:

He’s more than capable of bullying his way to the rim – – sometimes looking like a mini-Giannis:

Powell has hit some timely shots for this team. The three-point ball is going down at a respectable rate for him this year. He’s hitting 39 percent of his above-the-break threes this season, and 37 percent overall, per Cleaning the Glass. He nearly brought the Raptors back from the dead against the Heat last week:

The wing play on this team has been elite. All three mentioned here are good to great on both ends of the floor. They also produce some impressive highlights:

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Garrett Bugay
Twitter - @GarrettBugay / Podcast - Dunkin Dynasty / Email - g-bugay@onu.edu

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