Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 118-95 loss to the Chicago Bulls. To receive 10 things, the latest Raptors Over Everything podcast and full postgame reaction in your inbox the morning after every game, subscribe to the Yahoo Sports Raptors Reaction Newsletter.
One — Predictable: The Raptors can't compete without Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam. That's the whole story of this five-game losing streak. There simply isn't enough talent on the bench, or frankly any talent on the bench, that is capable of making up the difference. The Raptors don't have answers defensively, and they're also completely inept offensively. The Bulls aren't even very good, nor did they play particularly well, and the end result was still a 23-point wire-to-wire win. It's almost a waste of time to tune in until their main guys return.
Two — Maybe: The good news is that the Raptors expect to have their full roster by the end of next week. Two of the five players that are out have already received clearance and are in 1-on-0 drills. Some time needs to elapse for them to fully be cleared and to regain their fitness, but that is the most positive update that the Raptors have provided on this matter. How much players are impacted by COVID-19, or just by their three-week layoff, is unclear. Anything short of the best-case scenario might see the Raptors chasing just to get into the seeding tournament at season's end. The Raptors are now 11th in the East, and have the ninth-best lottery odds in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Three — Disappointing: In previous years, the Raptors built a reputation for being competitive even with players missing. Granted, it was never a pandemic wiping out three-fifths of the starting lineup, but the Raptors have faced injuries before and fared very well. What always happened was that someone off the bench would step up to fill in the gap offensively, while the Raptors remained solid defensively regardless of the personnel. That just isn't happening with this group, and it comes down to a lack of talent. The Raptors lost every veteran outside of Kyle Lowry in free agency over the past two summers, and replaced them with premium G-Leaguers. Now wipe out the main players on the team, and the results aren't that surprising.
Four — Underwhelming: The front office has never taken heat in eight seasons at the helm, because quite frankly, they have been excellent over that time. But they are not blameless in the state of their roster. They haven't operated with cap space since 2016, and a handful of draft picks were justifiably sacrificed in constructing the championship roster. The Raptors have mitigated their losses by finding diamonds in the rough, but is it reasonable to bank on beating the odds so consistently? What acquisition made in the last two seasons has translated to any tangible return or future? Terence Davis and Matt Thomas showed flashes as rookies, but now they are stapled to the bench even in blowouts with half the roster missing. Henry Ellenson on a 10-day contract is playing more minutes than Aron Baynes who was billed as the Marc Gasol/Serge Ibaka replacement. The Raptors are bereft of talent, not just because players are missing, but because they simply lack it.
Five — Wasted: It's disheartening to see Lowry and Norman Powell play their hearts out in games that cannot be won. The starting backcourt combined for 52 points, playing way above what is expected of them, and nobody follows their lead. The Raptors held Zach LaVine to half his season average, but the Bulls rallied around their All-Star with eight other players scoring in double digits. What help did Lowry and Powell get? Absolutely nothing. Powell is somehow scoring 1-on-5 on a consistent basis, whereas Lowry is setting up his guys for layups and open threes and still they don't score. If they weren't being paid eight figures it would be tragic.
Six — Simple: When things go wrong, that's when you start appreciating the value of competence. It doesn't seem like much to ask for, competence, but it's a hollowing feeling when it isn't there. Competence meaning layups, as in the most efficient shots in basketball, is not always a given even at the NBA level. The Raptors shot 2-of-11 in the restricted area in the first quarter, with guys like DeAndre' Bembry and Aron Baynes shooting as if they were wearing blindfolds trying to pin the tail on the donkey. Competence also means boxing out and completing defensive sequences with rebounds, another area where the Raptors failed. You could have swore Dennis Rodman was back in the pinstripes with how many offensive rebounds the Bulls were getting, except it was 32-year-old Thaddeus Young doing the damage against a handful of G-League prospects who are trying to earn their keep.
Seven — Leaky: There is no doubt that Chris Boucher can score at an NBA level especially at his position, but his defensive needs to match his offense. Boucher landed in early foul trouble on two soft fouls in his first shift, and got an earful on both sides from Lowry and Nick Nurse as he returned to the bench. From there it was more of the same, as every basket Boucher mustered was later conceded on the other end. Guards routinely drive and score on him, meanwhile forwards and centers use their bulk to bump Boucher while he is out of position to get easy trips to the line. Boucher can be very effective defensively when surrounded by the regular rotation, but without them, his weaknesses are being exposed. He is capable of so much better than what he showed in the last two games.
Eight — Change: It's very possible that the Raptors don't have five competent players at their disposal, but the Raptors must look to change their starting five. Putting both Baynes and Stanley Johnson in at once is guaranteeing empty possessions with two players that don't need to be accounted for and it's putting the Raptors in the hole to start every half. Davis, on the other hand requires his own stat similar to the assist-to-turnover ratio, but instead it's baskets-to-boneheaded ratio, because he can't be trusted to make sound enough decisions to warrant starting. For all his shortcomings, Bembry has performed well with the starters, and Boucher should get an early look even if that would rob the bench of their only competent scorer. If Baynes sticks around for his physicality at the rim, so be it.
Nine — Stock: Even if these games are throwaways due to COVID, it should still give the front office a valuable assessment window into which of their prospects is worth investing in. Paul Watson seems decent and has the physical tools to be a 3-and-D wing, although he did commit five fouls and three turnovers. Yuta Watanabe works hard every second he is out there but is allergic to scoring. Davis and Thomas are one-dimensional. Johnson has improved but is it enough? Ellenson looks as advertised as a stretch big who is also a walking target for the opposing offense. The answer might be to collect an entirely new group.
Ten — Decision: There's no doubt that a fully healthy roster could challenge for the playoffs and perhaps even win a round, but after losing eight of their first 10 games, and now dropping six of their last seven with the lone win coming against a Rockets side that has lost 16 straight, that window to compete might have closed before the Raptors even got a fair shot. And if so, what is to be done with Lowry and Powell, who are both slated to become coveted free agents? The Raptors certainly aren't in a position to lose talent, but they also need more talent to achieve anything of consequence. Sitting out this trade deadline and just praying for health and an extended win streak isn't going to work.
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