Raps DOWN Nets: Four Takeaways

Toronto has rebounded nicely from an earlier losing-skid, as the team capped-off its third-straight victory over the star-studded Nets. To break-down this recent success, I have outlined four major takeaways from last night’s win.

Baynes Turning Anew 

For roughly the past seven-games now, Baynes has found a more productive and humble role within the Raptors’ scheme. I mean after-all, with Alex Len being waived from the roster, there’s nowhere for the 35-year-old veteran big-man to hide; Baynes simply had to adapt. Given the emergence of Chris Boucher off the bench, Baynes has focused on becoming a hard-working net positive which prioritizes rebounds and defense.

This humbled approach has helped the Raptors as a group, especially given the recent injury to OG Anunoby; who has become quite the small-ball centre option. On Anunoby’s his first night out of the lineup, Baynes picked-up a season-high 16 rebounds in a 115-102 victory over the front-court heavy Orlando Magic. Baynes is not the solution to our deeper questions as a team, but at least for this season, his work ethic and attention-to-detail should keep him in the starting lineup.

Last night, he chipped in 9 points on 5/8 field-goals, connected on his only 3-pointer, while picking-up 4 rebounds and 1 steal through only 17-minutes of play. This stat-line won’t blow you away; but it’s exactly what we need from Baynes. Early in the season, I think Coach Nurse was perhaps overly optimistic in his appraisal of Bayne’s offensive repertoire, but those expectations have been clearly tempered. Efficiency and hustle is now the name of the game for our Aussie veteran, and it’s translated into some improved team success as of late.

Bembry Seizing the Moment 

Say what you’d like about Stanley Johnson, he’s deserved the praise, but it’s about time that DeAndre Bembry was afforded those same opportunities to shine. In 24-minutes last night, he knocked-down a three-pointer and recorded 5 points on 3/6 shooting, while adding 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal. Bembry has looked consistently sharp in his limited appearances this season, and many fans, myself included, have been calling to see more minutes his way.

Fans have really fallen-in-love with Stanley, yet I’ve been of the belief nearly all season that we can get comparable defense out of Bembry or Watson, while putting more efficient and sound ball-handlers on the floor. I certainly don’t want to see Stanley benched, however, I would like to see Bembry utilized more in key wing match-ups; like those against Boston’s Tatum and Brown.

Bembry is only a couple of years older than Stanley at 26, and if he continues to seize the moment like he currently is, I hope he becomes a long-term role player for us. Even during his Atlanta days, I found myself very impressed by the young small-forward and was thrilled to see Toronto ink him. His play-making and shot-selection are two very underrated parts of his game, and I believe Coach Nurse should increasingly return to Bembry for these reasons.    

Return of Siakam's Scoring Touch?

I can never say for certain, but he’s looking solid.

Inconsistency and top-dog pressure has clearly taken its toll on Siakam, but growth is something which is promised through all of it. Although it was fun trying to groom Siakam into a Bradley Beal-type scorer, that is simply not who is he and an approach like that ignores his greatest natural strengths. He just dropped a 33-piece on the Nets, and before KD’s departure from the game, Siakam actually managed to score a couple of paint-looks on him. Additionally, he picked up 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 1 block to complement this offensive outburst.

This is massively encouraging, as I find that Siakam can be notorious for hollow points; often disappearing as a primary scoring option during highly anticipated match-ups. However, his scoring touch appears to be returning, or at very least adapting, as he’s dropped 30-points in three of his past four games.

The key development you may ask? Of those 95 total points scored, not a single point came off a three-pointer, and last night he only tossed-up two three-pointer attempts all game. His average for three-pointer attempts is down from 6.1 last season to below 4 this season, and his 2P% has improved simultaneously. Siakam seems to be returning to the basics of what broke him into the league; hustle buckets, paint penetration, and earning trips to the charity stripe. This route may not be the glamorous style envisioned for a top-option, but as the past few games show, it helps to maximize Siakam’s skillset and therefore team success.  

Back-Court Balance

What can I say? This really is the best part of our team.

Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry work like a wood seesaw, one pulls while the other rests; collectively pulling and propelling the blade, chopping-down the tree. As a sports-bettor, it’s become very difficult to predict which one of our star point-guards seizes the driver seat on any given night. Regardless of who steps-up, we should feel in good hands, as both of them can display that elusive clutch-gene when needed most.

Although Lowry scored nearly 20 more points than VanVleet last night, both connected on 3-pointer shot late in the fourth quarter to help secure the win. When I say ‘back-court balance’, I am not only referring to play-style, but also the levelheadedness which exudes from our guards. In this article, I have argued that both Baynes and Siakam have benefitted from humbling their approach, as both seemed to struggle with high offensive expectation. Inversely, nothing seems to intimidate or phase Lowry and VanVleet, leading me to prefer them heading our offensive charge.

When Fred connected on that late three-pointer versus the Nets, he was 0/8 from beyond the arc and in danger of losing a franchise streak leading up to that point. Despite all of these factors at play, Fred drained it with confidence and conviction. More attention to our guards will open space for Siakam down-low, and this should be Coach Nurse’s approach moving forward.   

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