Make no mistake, the Raptors finally hitting a bunch of three-point shots was a welcome development during Friday’s win over Cleveland, but there was an even bigger storyline:
The bounce-back of sophomore Scottie Barnes. It’s been well-documented that instead of making a jump in Year 2, the reigning MVP rookie of the year has been inconsistent. One night he looks close to the guy we saw a year ago, the next he looks listless and inconsequential.
Coming off perhaps the worst game of his career (if not, it was pretty close) in New York City, Barnes played the aggressor from the start in Cleveland. He went right at the Cavs, even though they have a significant size advantage. Barnes basically pitched a tent down low, taking 14 of his 16 shots in the paint, including all four attempts in the first quarter. He also got to the free throw line three times in that quarter and five times in all, more than he had gotten there in the previous three games combined.
Barnes played bully ball and got what he wanted. He also set up four three-point makes, three of them in a first half that saw the Raptors jump out to a big lead.
It was exactly what the Raptors wanted to see from Barnes, who has all the talent in the world, but needs to assert his will on games in order to show it.
What made the performance more impressive was the fact that Barnes had been shooting just 36% on the road on the season, averaging just 10.9 points. He matched that in the first quarter alone.
Some more thoughts:
In case it wasn’t obvious, O.G. Anunoby makes a huge difference for this team. Even in a season where he’s slumped with his shooting, he’s still made major strides offensively and is an integral part of the offence. Of course he’s also the team’s best defender, a clampdown nightmare for the league’s best scorers. That includes Donovan Mitchell, who has had a brutal time trying to navigate around Anunoby this season. Cleveland’s off to a great start at 22-12, but three of those losses have come at the hands of the Raptors. Anunoby isn’t the only reason why, but he’s the leading reason.
This 15-18 start is one game worse than the 16-17 the previous two Raptors teams went.
Pascal Siakam leads the Raptors in points, rebounds, assists, turnovers and fouls per game. The eye test shows he’s doing it all. So does a glance at the stats.
It’s interesting to see former Raptor Yuta Watanabe shooting an NBA-best 53.3% on three-point shots, minimum 60 attempts. Flynn’s right there too, ranking sixth at 46.2%, just ahead of Canadian Andrew Wiggins. And if you double the attempts to a minimum of 120, Wiggins actually ranks third.
Canadians are absolutely going off this season. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been an All-NBA shoo-in, Wiggins has been great when he’s played, RJ Barrett has had two big games in a row and there’s many more thriving.
Back to the Raptors, Malachi Flynn’s ascension is much-needed considering nobody else on the roster has been anywhere close to his accuracy. Even after the breakout night against Cleveland, Siakam and Anunoby are at 35% (the same as the injured Otto Porter), Gary Trent and VanVleet are shockingly at 34% apiece (both are career 38% three-point shooters) and Juancho Hernangomez, Barnes and Chris Boucher have really struggled from outside.
Nick Nurse rode the starters hard (aside from Hernangomez) and didn’t even go to Boucher at all against the Cavs. That’s going to change when the schedule starts back up again. If Flynn continues to play well, we finally are starting to see the outline of a pretty good rotation. It could well go VanVleet, Anunoby, Barnes, Siakam and Precious Achiuwa starting, with Trent, Boucher, Flynn and either Porter or Thad Young getting significant time.
1 Scottie Barnes
2 Pascal Siakam
3 Fred VanVleet
H.M.: Darius Garland, O.G. Anunoby
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