While Pascal Siakam starts a new chapter with the Pacers, the Raptors are left closing the door on a championship era. We’re also talking Jordan Hawkins, Terry Rozier, and Doc Rivers this week.
It has been just over a week since the last In the Loopus, although it feels like far more. Paskal Siakam is an Indiana Pacer. We have our NBA All-Star Game starters. The Milwaukee Bucks pulled the plug on Adrian Griffin (good) and hired Doc Rivers (or did they?)
I have spent this week being on bed rest and going insane. To illustrate this, I’ve used the Doc Rivers “Hired” graphic a superfluous amount of times. The goal, initially, was to do something like that here.
The obvious question is, how can I possibly write an NBA recap where every single word ends with ‘RE’ or ‘RED’? Well, I can’t. I won’t. I am shirking my responsibilities to continue this assorted jokes. It’s been misery. It’s all I can think of.
In other words…
Thank you to Doc for giving me that escape from a problem I had built for myself. Along that line, let’s start with our first topic: the downfall of the 2019 Toronto Raptors!
Tor-Onto Better Things: Self-Damage and Sunk Cost for Raptors
The most accomplished era of Raptors basketball is over. This era may have ended when the Raptors shipped out long time untouchable OG Anunoby. In many ways, it was over when Kyle Lowry, the greatest Raptor of all time (not to be misunderstood as the best player to ever play in a Raptors jersey), departed for the Heat. Even before that, the summit was clearly in the rear view mirror when Kawhi Leonard left to go back home to the Los Angeles Clippers.
These Raptors were broken for a while though. Looking all the way back at the Tampa Bay Raptors, their first few weeks of the hype of Spicy (MV)P and the beautiful fan made retro-inspired jersey concepts before they collapsed in on themselves, were representative of the Raptors of the last four years.
Constantly chasing the team they were, the Raptors and GM Masai Ujiri were basketball’s Sisyphus. Bad year with bad injury luck was excused for yet another of its kind. Franchise mainstays were traded for parts or, in what is a fast way to tank your team’s asset pool, watched them leave for nothing. Norman Powell was left in Portland for current Raptor Gary Trent Jr. The aforementioned Kyle Lowry was sign-and-traded to the Miami Heat for Goran Dragic’s contract and Precious Achiuwa. Fred VanVleet traded Jurassic Park for Space Odyssey and joined the new-look Houston Rockets.
Even when the Raptors found their rebuild’s new cornerstone, it was only as a stepping stone to return to the play-in discussion where the Raptors neither sunk nor swam. They just floated. The Raptors were a floaty lost at the beach: drift-less, missed, and gradually deflating with no help in sight.
Because of this puncture in the metaphorical inner-tube, the Raptors were stuck where they were this deadline. OG Anunoby, once the apple of the eye of every contender, was traded for two good, not great young guys and no first round picks. Pascal Siakam, who may as well be the story of this eon of Toronto basketball as the embodiment of Ujiri and long time head coach Nick Nurse’s developmental philosophy, was moved to Indiana for three firsts, none of which look likely to even fall in the lottery.
Years of nostalgia have begotten stagnation. During those listless years, the calls for rebuild were loud, but ignored.
I’m here to say I get it.
Those Raptors, specifically that 2019 Championship squad, was special.
I am not a betting man, but the day of the Kawhi Leonard trade, I placed a bet on the Raptors to win a title. I inserted my MyPlayer into Toronto’s core on the way to a couple MVP seasons. I was all in on that team.
And still, I was surprised by how good they were. I don’t think I have ever or will ever see a team that well balanced, a roster so beautifully crafted, or a run so amazingly poignant.
So I understand why the Raptors chased that team’s past. It was a truly beautiful team. Edgar Allan Poe described ghosts as “as a burning and a fever, that would stick to thee forever.” Ujiri was feverous in sticking to those ghosts, the spirits of what he had built. He is no longer building with the same team he once was. For better or worse, there is no tie (outside of Chris Boucher) to the 2019 Raptors. The ghosts are only in the rafters now, hanging in their glory and their curse. It’s up to the new core in the North to make fans forget how we got here.
Jordan Hawkins is Breaking Rookie Expectations
About a week ago, I saw this tweet.
It’s a pretty absurd graph. Hawkins has a higher points per possession off screens than anyone. Even if the volume is small, beating out Steph Curry in any shooting stat is absolutely insane.
And yet, Hawkins is getting little buzz because we are experiencing two other rookies battle in one of the most thrilling award races in the NBA in Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama, or maybe because other late- and post-lottery rookies are adding significant value to their teams, or maybe even because the Pelican’s storm of success stemming from an excellent roster from stars to rotation is overshadowing him.
That final point is part of why Jordan Hawkins’ season to date has been so fascinating. By the standard of what rookies, specifically rookie guards, should look like, Jordan Hawkins is truly unprecedented because he gets so little opportunity and does so much with it.
Jordan Hawkins is 16th among rookies in touches per game. He is the eighth-ranked point guard in the same categories. Hawkins isn’t even in the top-50 in time per touch. In short, when he’s out there, he’s either doing one of two things: playing off ball or shooting.
That’s not a crazy skillset to bring into the NBA. We’ve had the rookie three point record broken multiple times in the past few years. Spacers are shooting more, supplemental players are being eased in, and creation is secondary to pure generated chaos from being chased around screens.
And yet, even then, Hawkins is standing out.
Seeing Whitmore and Jackson here is fun, especially as Whitmore has slowly gotten more run in the NBA and accounting for GG Jackson’s increased role with Memphis (who are 8-5 in the new year), but what this underscores is the decent volume of scoring on a low volume of shots that lines up with Hawkins’ off ball role.
Let’s put it in a different format.
Seven rookies are averaging in the double digits in points. Look at where Hawkins (and by extent, Whitmore) is. He gets less than half the touches of other point guards and matches their scoring averages. He gets the same amount of touches as fellow point guard Anthony Black and doubles the scoring average.
The question with players like these will always be how much you can increase the volume while maintaining the efficiency, and how you avoid being a one-note player. The player that came to mind on first glance was Landry Shamet, whose rookie year with both the Philadelphia 76ers and Clippers set a high bar that Shamet never returned to. But, Shamet was never at this level. Their 25 or so touches per game lineup, but Hawkins has the far better points per touch.
Hawkins is in a near perfect situation for his skillset, but he’s also been nearly perfect applying his skillset to his situation. Wemby and Chet and JJJ have all been excellent, and deserve the hype they’ve gotten, but Hawkins should be right up there with them. He is completely erasing any expectation someone in his role could have set.
S Stands for Front Court: Sabonis vs Siakam
The Pacers traded for Pascal Siakam.
It was a move that seemed to be coming for weeks, especially once Indianapolis missed out on Anunoby and Toronto found a lack of suitors for the Cameroonian All-Star.
It’s been a good match, too. Siakam got his first triple-double in ages a few nights ago, in a 134-122 slugging of the Sixers. Most notably, Siakam’s strength in the open court has been multiplied with the Pacers while his capable post creation has added another wrinkle to what was a one note, albeit powerful offense.
Did you hear that though?
The eerie hint of something else?
Thoughts of any front court partnership in Indianapolis brings back memories of the clustered, clunky fit that was Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. It was a pairing that lasted way too long and always seemed to get the worst out of both players. Sabonis would play off of the low block and take rebounds in transition in a way most forwards wouldn’t, finding passes and finishing in transition off an expeditated break. Myles Turner was the spacer in the corner who made up for Sabonis’ defensive gaffs in the middle, protecting the rim.
In theory, they complemented each other. In reality, there was never a real fit for either.
Siakam and Turner have proven to be different from day one, despite the surface level comparisons to the past. Most importantly, Siakam isn’t an outright negative defender and in fact is likely the only perimeter defensive ‘stopper’ that is obviously positive on this roster, but on the offensive end, the pairing works because of pace.
Any team with Tyrese Halliburton will obviously play quickly, but it was Sabonis’ pace of play that meshed so poorly with Turner that is now working with Siakam. If I may describe it in a way that only a self help book could, Sabonis would play in an exterior fast, but interior slow manner. He was plodding, calculating while expecting those around him to move. There was speed to it, but the speed went into the ball, leaving himself at a slower speed. Siakam, on the other hand, is always on. He’s always running, always moving, always ready.
The Pacers are still many pieces away, but for the first time since this retool really began with a Paul George trade six years ago (wow), the top end talents suit each other.
Western Conference Check-In
The West has continued to calm down in the standings department, as we said last week. We have our tiers of teams, and while the standings may change a little, those tiers are clear.
The top tier has a new champion, as the OKC Thunder have taken the top spot from the Wolves, while the Clippers and Nuggets round out that top four (I swear I will write about both soon!) Behind them, the Kings sit right ahead of the Suns and Pelicans, who continue to catch up after sour early seasons, while the Mavs and Lakers continue to struggle behind them. The Play-In pack continues with the Jazz, who have cooled down but still sit at 10th, are joined by the Rockets, who have tumbled ever since their defense took a step back, and the Warriors, who should be making big changes soon.
The bottom-three are as they’ve been all year: Grizzlies, Blazers, Spurs. But, the Grizzlies are slowly making a push for the *checks notes* twelfth seed, as they are only 2.5 games back from Golden State.
The backup PG market – It seems like so many teams need bench point guard help and yet so few of them are really available. Malcolm Brogdon makes way too much money. Tyus Jones in Washington has a weirdly sized contract that’s hard to match and is looking for a big starting deal. Alec Burks and Monte Morris in Detroit are two of the only veterans on a team that doesn’t want to start another negative streak. Dennis Smith Jr. in Brooklyn has been excellent defensively but is shooting in the 20s from deep. Don’t even think about Spencer Dinwiddie.
With Terry Rozier off the market to Miami (we’ll get to that), the point guard market is dry. Teams will be trying to patch bullet wounds with bubble gum, and might have to overpay for the bubblegum.
Marvin Bagley?? In this economy?? – He’s actually been shockingly good for Washington. Bagley failed in a high pace situation in Sacramento and a low paced one in Detroit, but this is somehow working. Washington’s lack of size outside of Daniel Gafford means that the Marvin Bagley center moments are needed and depended upon. Amazingly, it hasn’t been a total disaster, even if the defense has been.
Defense needs help, but you guys gotta stop being annoying – Two seventy point games in a week is less fun than it was last year, I will agree with that. But, when did we stop enjoying basketball as a fanbase? Maybe we should bring back some defensively-favored rule changes, but basketball has always been about offense. A great defense hampers a great offense. A great offense ignores a great defense. We’ve gotten to the point where teams understand how to get the most out of their players and that means more scoring, not less.
Games are close. Leads aren’t safe. Hearts are on the lines because of it. That’s a lot more fun than 87-83 final scores that weren’t close since the second quarter. If you’ve ever watched low division college basketball, you’ll get it. You think you want more defense, but you’ll just as quickly get bored watching shot clock after shot clock dwindle away.
Terry Rozier Heat Checks – This move is so good for the Heat and I am continuously angry at how they get away with this. Rozier has been quietly excellent for Charlotte this year and while his volume should go down, he should provide what Miami needs. I see no way this goes wrong, the Heat made this same ilk of player work with Dion Waiters. Rozier is much better than Waiters. Expert Analysis.
Kyle Lowry is currently living out a fever dream as Tony Parker. Hopefully, he can get waived and go literally anywhere else.
Hero of the Week: Doc Rivers
I mean, who else could it have possibly been.
I’ve done enough speaking on Doc Rivers in the past few days so let me leave you with this.
See you next week!