Drawing conclusions from any game at the start of the NBA preseason is foolish.
This makes it even more dangerous to play them against a team that comes from a league that is at least a step below the NBA level and probably more.
The biggest question asked in the arena on Sunday night as the Raptors took on the Cairns Taipans of the NBL (Australia’s National Basketball League) was: “Why bother?”
The Raptors only have four exhibition games left before things get started, and they’re still drawing conclusions about how best to perform this regular season.
With a new coach, an almost entirely new coaching staff and both a new offense and defense from the Nick Nurse regime, Darko Rajakovic will really have to see how his charges handle his plans against real NBA competition.
So the answer to the original question of “why bother?” seems to come down to the league’s desire to expand its popularity beyond North America. Hosting such games and hosting their league under the Global Games initiative serves this purpose, and each team takes part in them on a rotating basis.
The NBL is one of the faster-paced leagues outside of the NBA, known for its fast pace and has produced a lot of NBA talent. The Cairns squad initially contained three young players with realistic NBA aspirations, but injuries and illnesses cost two of those players to the current squad.
However, this was not the ideal game to prepare for the coming season.
Here are some observations about the Raptors’ rather one-sided 134-93 win at Scotiabank Arena.
Still sharing, but still a little sloppy
The Raptors assisted on 34 of 48 made baskets. Fast ball movement was a focus of Rajakovic’s first training camp with the team and it’s clear the message is getting through.
Pascal Siakam led all Raptors with five helpers in his nearly 17 minutes of play.
However, turnovers continue to be a problem, which is to some extent to be expected when a team needs to make quick decisions and move the ball as far as possible. Scottie Barnes, one of the better and more willing passers on this team, had a rough night in that regard. He was accused of five turnovers while he was credited with four assists.
As a team, the Raptors scored 17 goals in this game, a significant improvement over the 29 they had against Sacramento in the first preseason game on the schedule.
TEAM BASKETBALL WINS
Rajakovic wants this team’s defense to be as difficult as possible, and to do that he wants all five players on the field to be a threat. In that regard, he’s getting exactly what he wants in two games without any player dominating the ball or even the shots.
Of the five Raptors staters on Sunday night (Chris Boucher filled in for the under-weather Jacob Poeltl, but otherwise the first five players were the same in both games) all had at least six shots, and none took more than seven. Off the bench, Javon Freeman-Liberty took 11 shots and made seven in a Raptors-best 15-point night. Aside from him, however, most of the reserves, including Gary Trent Jr., were around the team average for the night with eight in another team-best 18 minutes.
Once the regular season starts, there’s a feeling that the ball will find a little more guys like Siakam and Barnes and OG Anunoby, but we’ve probably seen the end of those Raptors days where one or two players constantly outnumber ten or more players take more shots than the rest of the team.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR SIAKAM
Siakam has historically been the player to dominate the Raptors’ pitching list. On Sunday night, he led the starters with seven shots but also led the team with five assists. However, it appears that Siakam will be the one who will have to make the biggest change when it comes to changing his game.
Both Siakam and his head coach continually point out that the ball ultimately finds the best players on the field. Maybe that will be the case once things develop that way, once the rotations tighten up and routine sets in. But it’s probably still not wise to bet on a repeat of the 18.5 shots per night average that Siakam averaged a year ago.
Siakam says he agrees with that.
“For me, all I want to do is do my best to help the team win, and if that means 40 minutes of play, then that’s 40 minutes of play,” he said. “If it’s 30 or whatever, then I’ll do it. I’m sure my legs will be happy, but I just want to go out there and help.”
When it comes to shot attempts, Siakam again doesn’t seem too concerned.
“No matter what we do, right now it’s just about getting the basketball played the right way,” he said Sunday. “I feel like I always do this anyway.”
QUESTIONS FROM SUNDAY
Where did the Raptors find 18,141 people willing to spend money on preseason basketball? Everything is hard to sell in the preseason, but the house was almost sold out for a game against a visiting team from a lower league? … How long does it take for a broken middle toe to heal? Otto Porter Jr. was again inactive for Sunday’s game. Porter’s last NBA appearance was on November 14 in a win over Detroit when he played 12 minutes. He hasn’t been in the squad for a real game since.