Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 118-104 to the Detroit Pistons.
One — Empty: There are only two outcomes when you tune into a Raptors game. They either battle hard but come up short in some new and bitter way, or they are just completely gassed and get blown out in shameless fashion. Toronto's three losses to the Pistons over the last month covers the entire spectrum from depressing to despondent. This entire season is lost, and the players know it. Having received no help whatsoever from the front office in the offseason and again at the trade deadline, the message was to roll over and tank, and you're witnessing what that looks like.
Two — Angst: You know things are bad when even "Steady Freddy" is flipping out. Fred VanVleet was the only one keeping the Raptors afloat early on, sinking deep threes, slashing into the paint for kickout threes, and even converting a few difficult layups, but nobody joined in. The deficit grew to 21 points midway through the second quarter, and VanVleet couldn't resist kicking the stanchion out of disgust. VanVleet tried his best to will the team back to life, but it mostly resulted in bricked layups and a jammed right knee. VanVleet taking twice as many shots as any other player is a huge red flag that things are broken, because that's not his game at all.
Three — Lost: It was a miserable night for Pascal Siakam, who battled foul trouble all night and couldn't get anything easy to drop. Siakam picked up his fifth foul early in the third quarter, and while he scored a pair of tough layups over the Pistons' rookie center, it had absolutely no impact on the outcome of the game. Siakam isn't always going to dominate, especially against beefy frontlines like the Pistons, but he also can't completely bottom out like this. The Raptors are short enough as it is, and without Siakam they have nobody who can impact the rim. It's not like there is someone off the bench who can even give you a fraction of what Siakam is paid to do.
Four — Hurt: Kyle Lowry was held to only 24 minutes and he might as well not played at all. Lowry clearly wasn't fit, and what sense is there to ride a 35-year-old on a lingering foot injury? That reeks of desperation more than anything else. It's not as if the result will be any different if he guts it out, and if he sits that opens more reps for rookie Malachi Flynn to find his footing. It's not entirely clear why Lowry is still on the roster to begin with. The front office made three sell-now trades, but stopped short with their most valuable piece. And while the trade market obviously fell short of the Raptors' expectations, there is even less value in making Lowry suffer through this lost year.
Five — Trying: OG Anunoby is trying his best to expand his game to meet the Raptors' needs. It's not really in is game to be a featured scorer, yet Anunoby is calling for the ball and trying to make something happen. These reps will help his development in the long run, and it's worth suffering through his pubescent awkwardness to get the fully actualized version of Anunoby in a few seasons. One small improvement from yesterday was Anunoby choosing a short pull-up while driving against Mason Plumlee instead of forcing it against a bigger center as he did against Jusuf Nurkic on Sunday. Half of being a good offensive creator is to make the right reads on a consistent basis, and that requires repetitions to develop.
Six — Encouraging: Gary Trent Jr. had his most promising game since arriving at the trade deadline. It's clear that he's learning how to play within the team, and that the team is also learning how to play with him, but the skillset is there. Trent Jr. nailed two threes to start, which got him going, and he found ways to contribute over the rest of the night. Trent Jr.'s best play was on a cut to the basket, where he received the pass and whipped his body in a full rotation while hitting Anunoby in the corner with the extra pass before landing on his jump. He's a smart role player who will slot in fine when things are right with the team.
Seven — Regress: It's disappointing to watch Chris Boucher regress after such a brilliant start to his breakout year. He wasn't going to score 20 points every night or block every three in the state of Florida, but the Raptors don't need him to be a star. What the Raptors have needed more than anything this season is a solid defensive center who can contest shots without fouling while also collecting misses, and on both fronts Boucher has failed. Slotting him in as a power forward isn't so bad if Aron Baynes and Stanley Johnson weren't the other options at center, but some of this is also on Boucher. He is the only player who is consistently singled out by coaches and fellow teammates for his defensive gaffs, and these interactions are caught on the broadcast at least once per game.
Eight — Pop: It won't change the outcome of these games, but Yuta Watanabe needs to see the floor more often just on the simple fact that he plays harder than anyone and because he is always active in rebounding, which is a huge weakness for the team. Watanabe's minutes have been hard to come by since Boucher made the switch to power forward, and he's too unwilling to shoot which makes him a liability offensively, but he deserves another shot. Nurse's preference has been to deploy Aron Baynes for his bulk, but given the choice between Baynes' inactivity and Watanabe's hyperactivity, there isn't much of a difference.
Nine — Weakness: The Raptors cannot be taken seriously until the front office signs a starting-level center. Even if it's just a temporary option with a veteran stopping by on a buyout, every little bit will help. It's not fair to ask Siakam and Anunoby to grapple with centers who are often 20 or 30 pounds heavier than them, and it's a bad move long term to have two of the most important development pieces to be playing out of position. The fact that the defense falls apart when the two fill-in centers check out speaks volumes about just how dire the center position actually is.
Ten — Unacceptable: You could sympathize with the Raptors for being down on themselves this season given all the circumstances that have cut against them, but it's still not an excuse for being checked out. Look at the Pistons — they're in the second year of a rebuild and hold the second-worst record in the league, but they still battled as if they were in a playoff chase. There's no excuse for not playing hard, not competing, not being focused, and for not executing the basics. There is a standard of professionalism that needs to always be maintained, and too many times the Raptors have failed to meet it this season.
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