One — The Raptors are playing their worst basketball of the season since returning from the All-Star break. They have suffered two blowouts and lost back-to-back games at home to the two worst teams in the conference, sandwiched around two wins over a badly constructed and depleted Nets team. Injuries have played a huge factor, as Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby are vital pieces on a Raptors roster that has no reliable depth at their positions. But even with those players out, it’s still hard to swallow wire-to-wire losses against tanking teams. The Raptors should be climbing in the standings, but have instead squandered the softest part of their schedule before heading out west for a difficult six-game road trip.
Two — Gary Trent Jr. is mired in a wicked slump. Since the eight-game win streak, which spans nine games dating back three weeks, Trent Jr. is shooting 40-for-135 from the field which puts him under 30 percent shooting from the field. That includes instances like the Pistons game, where he was forcing shots in an attempt to pick up the load for VanVleet’s absence, but that was not the case in this loss to the Magic where he was 2-of-12 while missing all nine of his threes. Trent Jr. was repeatedly fed wide-open looks and you could almost feel his confidence plummeting with every miss. After Trent Jr. badly missed an open shot in the fourth, Pascal Siakam looked him off on the next trip down, opting instead to drive through two defenders instead of kicking it out. Nick Nurse pulled Trent Jr. shortly after and benched him for the game. The disappointing part is that Trent Jr. isn’t doing other things to make up for his poor shooting. Passing is a last resort, and while he started positively on defence, he increasingly opted for ill-advised gambles down the stretch.
Three — The amount of point-blank misses at the basket was shocking. The Raptors shot 17-for-36 from within five feet, which is already substantially lower than the league average of 60 percent from this range. But it gets even worse when you parse out Pascal Siakam’s contribution, as he was 9-for-11 from in close. That leaves the remainder of the team at 8-for-25 on layups, which is simply pathetic. Sure, some of the shots were contested, and the Magic do have length and size in the middle, but it was just a soul-sucking experience to watch the Raptors leave points on the table with their inability to finish. Precious Achiuwa was part of the problem as he insisted on trying to drive and score over the bigger and backpedaling Robin Lopez, Scottie Barnes was off on his post-ups and generally lethargic, while the rest of the team just rarely gets to the rim.
Four — Malachi Flynn turned it on in the fourth quarter. He scored 12 points and recorded four assists in the final frame to finally give Siakam a secondary player to pair with, but it was too late. Over the first three quarters, Flynn was far too passive in setting up the offence while the rest of his teammates squandered chance after chance. With how the bigs were unable to finish down low, and with how Trent Jr. was shooting blanks, the Raptors were begging for some quality guard production to go along with Siakam’s individual scoring. The difference in the fourth was Flynn’s willingness to drive into the paint, which forced the Magic into rotations which created gaps for his teammates to attack. He found Barnes and Chris Boucher on rolls to the basket, and he scored two drives on his own. Flynn needs to open games with that type of aggression instead of waiting on others. It’s a tough adjustment since his role for most of the year in limited minutes was just to start the play and get out of the way, but the team now needs him to create.
Five — Nurse finally put his foot down and shuffled his rotations. He benched Khem Birch after the first half where he had one single point in nine minutes, and went with Boucher in his place. Nurse also made wholesale changes early in the third, bringing on Achiuwa, Thad Young, and Svi Mykhailiuk who was reintroduced in a desperate attempt to inject shooting. Nurse also benched Dalano Banton firmly in favour of Flynn, opted to play without a point guard at times, and even cut Trent Jr. off in the fourth while giving Yuta Watanabe a rare sight at actual minutes. Very little of it worked in the game, save for a few hustle plays from Watanabe in the fourth, although he gave those back with a few dispiriting mistakes. At times, you wonder if players even know their roles when checking into the game. Asking Young to sprint into the corners to hunt threes or trying to serve him lob dunks is not playing to his strengths, neither is Mykhailiuk shooting turnaround elbow jumpers off of baseline inbounds as if he were Kobe Bryant without even a thought to pass. Not only are the reserves not that talented, but they’re also not playing smart.