Raptors Winning & Growing @ProBballNBA

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Raptors Winning & Growing @ProBballNBA

Can The Raptors Develop And Win At The Same Time?

The one constant since head Coach Dwane Casey arrived on the scene in Toronto six years ago has been a focus on developing the team’s young talent and that strategy isn’t one that tends to garner a lot of respect. Earlier this summer the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” ESPN picked the Raptors to drop to sixth in the East after finishing top three in back-to-back seasons, but to be fair, it isn’t easy to develop and win at the same time.

“It’s very important,” Casey said about playing the young guys this season. “The only way you get ready and prepared mentally and physically for the NBA is to play in the NBA, so they are going to get that opportunity. The young guys are going to play.”

And the young guys have played a major role in early success of the Raptors.

Third year guards Norman Powell and Delon Wright are averaging over 20 minutes per game and so is second year center Jakob Poeltl. Unexpectedly, rookie forward OG Anunoby is playing almost 18 minutes per game and he was rehabbing a knee injury on draft day that put the start of his season in doubt. Even second year guard Fred VanVleet is playing just under 12 minutes a game as the third string point guard.

As important as getting playing time has been the impact of the young guys on the court.  The Raptors are a top five defensive team, holding opponents to 98.2 points per game in October and the players holding their team’s top five defensive ratings are Powell (91.7), Anunoby (91.7), Wright (94.8), Poeltl (94.8) and VanVleet (95.0).

The Raptors have looked good when their young second unit hits the court.

Toronto has been getting some offensive surprises as well. Poeltl has scored in double-digits in three games and put up two double-doubles in points and rebounds. Second year forward Pascal Siakam, who has been getting minutes recently because of injuries to Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka, put up 20 points in Golden State and 18 points against the Lakers. Forgotten man, fourth year center Lucas Nogueria, has had games of 10 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks versus Philadelphia and 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks in Portland.

Concerns with the Raptors roster revolved around relying on 10 young unproven players heading into this season and an insistence from president Masai Ujiri to see what he had in these guys. Injuries have already tested the Raptors depth and Ujiri has to be pretty pleased with what he’s seen.

Through October, Toronto has been outscoring their opponents by a league best 10.8 points per game and has started out strong with four wins and close losses on the road in San Antonio and Golden State.

The “culture change” of firing up a lot more three-pointers than last year, currently the third most attempts per game (32.8), has raised some eyebrows as the Raptors are hitting league worse 29.9 percent of those attempts. However, Casey has his players playing some unimaginable perimeter defense and their opponents are only sinking 30.5 percent of their three-balls and his young guys have been a big part of their team’s stingy defense. While their perimeter shooting has to improve, the Raptors can survive slumps as long as their defense stays strong.

Trying to develop and win at the same time is never easy and there will be nights when a lack of veteran depth will be painfully obvious, but to start the season Casey has his young guys playing defense at a high level and making some surprising contributions on offense.

If they can keep this up, the Raptors will win over 50 games for the third season in a row and Powell, Wright, Poeltl, Anunoby and VanVleet can force ESPN to just stuff those pessimistic preseason predictions.

Stephen Brotherston


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