January 5, 2021, 11:32 am
Monday’s 9-game slate had it’s entertaining moments, but also had its fair share of blowouts throughout. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these blowouts was the continued disappointing start to the season for the Toronto Raptors, who fell to 1-5 after a 114-126 loss to the Boston Celtics (much of the deficit was made up in garbage time). Boston came into the night missing virtually all of their primary ball-handling guards with Marcus Smart and Jeff Teague joining Kemba Walker on the sidelines. Despite this, the Celtics had no issue finding buckets against an, at times, lackadaisical Raptors defense. Jayson Tatum lead the way with 40 points on an efficient 11-of-19 from the field, while rookie Payton Pritchard continues to impress, flourishing in 32 minutes of action (some of it garbage time) en route to career-highs with 23 points and eight assists. That this all came on the second night of a back-to-back for the Celtics should further raise those alarms for Raptors fans.
Toronto finds themselves in an unfamiliar place (in more ways than one) with this uncharacteristic lack of cohesion to start their season. Pascal Siakam has notably been one of the largest underperformers of the young season and, regarded as the team’s best player, is deservingly getting a large portion of the blame for their struggles. He’s shooting a career-low 40% from the field through his first five games, and has repeatedly found himself in foul trouble, trying to do too much on the defensive side of the ball. Though he had a relatively decent game statistically in Monday’s contest, he’s still losing regularly to his defensive matchups.
There is more at play than just Siakam’s struggles. The Raptors look rather depleted as a unit. They clearly do not have adequate replacements for Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, who despite looking washed at times throughout last season, brought a far more complete collection of range, passing skills and general basketball IQ that the Raptors simply have been unable to replace through their frankenstein center rotation of Aron Baynes, Alex Len and Chris Boucher. OG Anunoby has been tasked with filling some of the void in the frontcourt offense early on, but has up to now has looked underqualified for the volume Toronto has tasked him with being responsible for. Norman Powell, a staple of the Raptors’ bench rotation for years, has looked like a shell of himself offensively, and is unable to put consistent minutes together as a result.
Another understated factor in all of this? Toronto isn’t even playing at home throughout this season. They’re playing all of their home games, until further notice, in Tampa Bay, a city that is over 1300 miles from the place many of these Raptors have called home. There is likely an understated factor to trying to resituate yourself in an unfamiliar area while also trying to retool your team on the fly. The outlook isn’t rosy for these Raps, but at least these deficiencies are coming to light early in the season rather than slowly as we go through it. They still have time to turn things around, but the climb up from this start is going to take more than just fixing some shooting mechanics and sifting through angry Nick Nurse press conferences.
Adds of the Night:
Kelly Olynyk F/C, Miami Heat
His minutes had been trending up over his past three games, making him an intriguing name to watch. Then he was named the starting four for this game and blew the door open as a clear-cut add. Scoop him up for a great source of FG%, 3PM and REB with trickles of other stats. Just be aware that Erik Spoelstra likes to keep things fresh with his rotations, nothing is guaranteed.
De’Andre Hunter, F, Atlanta Hawks
Hunter has arguably been the 2nd best player on the Hawks so far this season with his reliable jumpshot and improved strength driving to the rim. He’s locked into big minutes and can help your team with scoring stats, rebounds and all-around efficiency. The FG% is sure to come down from the 53% he’s currently sitting at, but not to the point where it can’t be a plus.
Norman Powell G/F, Toronto Raptors
The minutes aren’t great, the shot isn’t great, and the other stats are almost non-existent. It’s pretty tough to hold onto Powell at the moment, as the climb out of this funk could be pretty daunting. He’s worth holding if you can afford to bench him until he can show some signs of life. He’s probably a drop if you can’t though.
Kevin Durant (health protocols) is set to miss the next week of action after a potential exposure to COVID-19.
Marcus Smart (thumb) came into Monday’s contest questionable and wound up sitting it out. It remains to be seen how long this keeps him sidelined. Jeff Teague missed this game as well with a sprained ankle, making Payton Pritchard a deep-league fantasy option either returns.
Darius Garland (right shoulder) popped up on the injury report early on Monday and was forced to sit out Cleveland’s matchup with the Magic. Dante Exum (calf) got hurt in the first quarter and had to be helped off the floor. It is unclear when either will make it back on the floor at this time, giving Cleveland a tad a crunch in the backcourt.
Killian Hayes (hip) had to leave this game early in the second half…Josh Jackson (left ankle) missed this game after twisting it in Sunday’s match, though he assured worried fans on instagram that it’s just a sprain and that he’ll be back soon. Take that as you will…Blake Griffin (left knee management), meanwhile, missed this game and it certainly won’t be the last going forward.
Evan Fournier (back spasms) was unable to go against Cleveland, which comes as no real surprise seeing that he wasn’t able to practice on Sunday.
Alec Burks (left ankle) wasn’t able to get on the floor against Atlanta, though it does feel like he’s closer to a return seeing how he was upgraded from doubtful to questionable earlier in the day.
The Bulls are still without Tomas Satoransky and Chandler Hutchison as they recover from COVID-19 as well as Lauri Markkanen and Ryan Arcidiacono as they self-isolate.
Luka Doncic (quad) missed Sunday’s contest but looked just fine coming back for Monday’s clobbering of the Rockets.
James Harden (ankle) returned from a one game absence, delivering a blow to the community of people who thought a trade was on the precipice of going down. Danuel House (back) was a late scratch.
Derrick White was diagnosed with a fractured toe and has no timetable for return. It is a separate toe from the one he had surgery on in the offseason. LaMarcus Aldridge (knee) is heading into tomorrow’s contest as questionable.
LeBron James (ankle) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (ankle) are considered questionable for tomorrow’s game against the Grizzlies. Alex Caruso (health protocols) has been ruled out.
Marcus Morris (knee) has been ruled out for Tuesday’s contest.
Malcolm Brogdon’s Efficiency: Brogdon has had many positives this season, but among the top is his improved efficiency after his rough shooting during his first season in Indy. He’s gone from 43% on 13 attempts last season to 51% on 16 attempts through his first seven games of the 20-21 campaign. It’s a small sample-size, sure, but there are stylistic changes under coach Nate Bjorkgren that make me think he can keep it going. Brogdon operated much of last season as the lead ball handler and facilitator, setting up nearly half of Indy’s pick and roll sets. This year Bjorkgren has placed a larger emphasis on team-oriented passing (as evidence by improved assist numbers from guys like Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo) and has tried to get Brogdon into more spot up opportunities, which was his bread and butter when he played for the Bucks. The early returns have been very positive for Brogdon, and should he keep the FG% up he has a very very good shot at beating his ADP.
Julius Randle’s Minutes: Randle is enjoying the full Tom Thibodeau experience in the early season. He’s currently 2nd in the NBA in minutes played per-game (teammate RJ Barrett is 1st). As a result it should come as little surprise that he’s averaging career-high counting numbers across the board, but what may be a surprise is that he’s doing it with marketbly better percentages from the field, from three and from the line, while doing it. The equation for Randle’s fantasy value hinges on his ability to stay efficient, and though it’s too early to start planning the victory lap, those who drafted him in the 90s on draft day have to be feeling like they have the steal of the draft so far.
The Cavs’ facilitators: Cleveland had to play the Magic tonight without starting point guard Darius Garland, and lost starting small forward and pseudo point guard Dante Exum to a calf injury early. With those two out of commission the Cavs had to get creative in the distribution game, perhaps too creative. Of their 20 assists, 16 of them came from their big-men (seven for Cedi Osman, four for Andre Drummond, three for Larry Nance Jr. and one each for JaVale McGee and Thon Maker). It should be no real surprise that the Cavs struggled to produce a lot of offense tonight (only 83 points) with this less than ideal unit of playmakers. The flip side for fantasy purposes? This creates even more avenues for Nance and Drummond to continue stuffing the stat sheet in multiple ways until one of Garland or Exum can return. Maybe Collin Sexton can get involved too.