More time has passed in the Eastern NBA world, but it still remains a little off to say the least. The New York Knicks are actually still good? The Cleveland Cavaliers are no longer undefeated but are still over.500 at the time of writing and the Toronto Raptors are occupying one of the bottom positions amongst the Detroit Pistons and the Charlotte Hornets. Normalcy has not yet been restored and I kind of hope it doesn’t. This added level of surprise and unexpected things happening gives a different flavor to the magic of the sport we all love. At this point in time, we find the Philadelphia 76ers being on fire and leading the East with a 7-1 record followed by the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers. But for me, the story of the week is at the bottom. The Toronto Raptors have been far from their best. So, what is the problem in Toronto (or Tampa Bay now) and what assets can we expect to pick it up or stay the same?
The Raptors are not one of the best teams to watch, and that is surprising to say for a team with talents like Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, and Kyle Lowry. Siakam has been underwhelming. He is currently averaging 17.6 points a game with 7.4 rebounds. Those are solid numbers, but not when you are the top star and the number one option on your team. For all my Siakam owners, I say hold. I do believe Pascal gets better and we will see him score more and in an efficient manner. If you trade now, you will come out on the losing end probably in a couple of weeks. Now, VanVleet has looked good. Nothing crazy, but he does his job. He is averaging 20. 6 points, around 5 rebounds, and 5 assists on the season. Good numbers out of FVV, a guy who is doing this being the second option so far. This will continue. FVV is a solid player that will fill the stat sheet and can also breakout for the odd game here and there if he catches fire like he did the first quarter against Phoenix on the 6th of January. But one of the biggest problems, if not the biggest for the Raptors is the problem inside. They have no interior presence and the paint is basically open to the public. Aron Baynes, Alex Len, and Chris Boucher can be good pieces for you, but will not strike fear in the hearts of the opposing teams like a good rim protector such as Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis can do. Father time seems to be catching up to Baynes and Chris Boucher will not be overpowering and muscling people out anytime soon. No matter the team the Raptors go up against, they surrender the paint, and that will most definitely hurt you night in and night out when you are trying to string together wins. In an NBA where most shots come from either inside the paint or beyond the 3 point line, you have to be able to have some sort of interior defense and the best player on your team has to pick up the slack and score more than 17 a night, I’m looking at you Pascal. With this being said, I do believe Siakam and the Raptors figure it out. They will not finish with a negative record, but they may not be as good as we expected them to be before the season started. Nick Nurse is a very good coach who in no way, shape, or form, will let his team muddle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Stay strong Raptors fans!
Best Performers of The Week:
- Julius Randle: Randle has been playing like an All-Star and dare I say an MVP candidate. In his last three games, he has averaged 23.3 points with almost 15 rebounds and 8 assists in 40 minutes a night. Based on the minutes played, we know he is a lock to put up great production, but I think it is safe to say he has surpassed everyone’s expectations. Thibs has completely turned him 180 degrees around and has made him look like a different player. Long gone are the days of the dreaded spin into a triple team. Long gone are the days of the dubious handle Randle (although turnovers are still a small problem). Long may it continue. If Randle keeps this up, he will most surely have a case to become an All-Star this season.
- Tobias Harris: For another week in a row, Harris has been a standout performer. In his last 3 games, he has posted averages of a little under 22 points, 7 rebounds, and a little under 4 assists. Harris for me at least has been overperforming a little with a team that has Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. An Embiid who by the way is also playing great, so he’ll probably be in this section next week. Despite Tobias’ excellent play so far I do expect a small drop-off. We will see games where he will take a back seat to Joel and Ben but at the beginning of the season, he has played at a great level hitting over 50% of his shots and 46.5% of his threes. As long as he sinks his shots and makes the most of his touches, he will most likely find his way back in this section.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: Now the 2X MVP had a slow start to the season but he seems to have come alive in his last couple of games. He’s had a double-double in one of them and two near double-doubles as well in the last two games against the Detroit Pistons where he has averaged 34 points with 8.5 rebounds and 4 assists. This is more like the Giannis we know and what we can expect to see from him moving forward every night he takes the court. He will continue to dominate in the paint, haul in all the rebounds, and get his kick out assists a couple of times a game. Let’s keep on working on the shot though Gianni!
Waiver Wire Adds:
- Kelly Olynyk: The Heat’s rotation is not set. It never really is at the beginning of the season but Olynyk is in good form and that alone may render a short-term add in your teams. Grab him if you have the room and go along with the ride. In his last three games, he has averaged 14 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and a block to go with those numbers in a little under 29 minutes. Given the time Olynyk can be a good source of points and rebounds as well as threes since he is 41.4% from downtown this season. Keep an eye on him and how Spoelstra’s rotation will be.
- Payton Pritchard: Pritchard just had his best game in his young career on the 4th of January against Toronto. He scored 23 points with 8 assists in 32 minutes. Of course, Marcus Smart was out, which opened up more opportunities for the rookie to shine, but Pritchard did grab this opportunity by the horns and showed that he can produce. He won’t have games like this every night, but he is one to keep an eye on and take a flier if you think Coach Stevens will continue to trust in the rook. He is probably worth a look in leagues with 12 and more though. Pritchard also scored a game-winning lay-up for the Celtics against the Heat. He is on his way to becoming a fan favorite out in Boston I’m sure!
- Delon Wright: Wright is not a player I am super duper high on, but with Killian Hayes’ unfortunate injury, I am pretty sure Wright will be called upon alongside Derrick Rose to put up numbers better than before given that they’ll have more time now with the rookie gone. If there is room on your team towards the back end, keep an eye on Wright and the Pistons to see how they move forward now without their star rookie.
With more and more games being played night in and night out we can start expecting the standings to take the shape they will most likely resemble throughout the season. The Sixers seem to be the best in the East, so it will be exciting to see how they do against the better teams in the league like the Heat and the Nuggets, who are tougher competition than what they have faced so far. The Raptors will look to get back on track against the likes of the Kings, the Warriors, and the Hornets while the New York Knicks will hope to keep their streak going against teams like the OKC Thunder and the Brooklyn Nets. Oh, and hopefully not burn out since Julius Randle and RJ Barrett are leading the league in minutes played per game at around 40! I’ll be back next week after hopefully another and entertaining week in the East. Until then, good luck to your teams, and see ya!