A Sneak Preview Of Things To Come

by Vivek Jacob

It’s the appetizer before the main course, the runway for tantalizing potential and unreasonable expectations. The Toronto Raptors opened their pre-season with a 123-107 drubbing of the Philadelphia 76ers and largely teased all that has made them an intriguing bet to surpass all expectations -- as has been custom for the better part of the past decade.

In all the tangible ways, it felt just like pre-season. You had sloppy passes and missed assignments on defence, blown calls from the officiating crew, and a Raptors house that wasn’t filled to the brim. There were players on either side who would’ve likely played with greater stakes, but also plenty of opportunity for new faces to impress.

That’s where a lot of the energy came from for Toronto, so let’s get into the key takeaways of the night:

Scottie Barnes is Mr. Do it All

Nick Nurse has said it time and time again, Barnes is someone who can do a little bit of everything. The rookie finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals, two blocks and a team-high plus-19 in 25 minutes to stamp home the point.

There were some typically raw, rookie mistakes with a bit of miscommunication on defence or some turnovers, but it was never for a lack of effort. Barnes’ energy is electric and helped spark a major turnaround for the Raptors after a slow start. His ability to apply pressure on the defence and pick a pass was his most appealing attribute on the night, something the league will marvel at when considering his size and strength.

Barnes himself continues to be impressed by the love and support he receives from Raptors fans.

“We had a lot of good moments today,” Barnes said. “The fans showed me a lot of love after the game. I would say that's probably one thing that will probably stick with me, fans showing me a lot of love after the game. We had a lot of fun today. There's a lot of moments that I could describe, but I'll go with that one.”

Dalano brought his home cooking

If one thing became clear about Banton on this night, it’s that it will be a matter of time before he makes his NBA debut. The kid from Rexdale can play. After receiving a nice ovation from crowd, Banton attacked the rim with purpose to finish when he had the opportunity and found teammates with ease as well. He went coast-to-coast for a George Gervin-esque finger roll finish and connected with Barnes on some sweet plays as well.

He may have been even more impressive defensively, staying in front of Philly’s guards and switching onto wing players without a problem, either. His physical strength will have to develop over time, but what he’s got now is plenty to impress Fred VanVleet.

“He can really pass, he knows the game, he knows where guys are at,” VanVleet said. “Playing at that speed it can get a little dangerous at times when you mess up, it's kinda all or nothing. But just that pace is going to take him a long way, you don't have to run many plays, he just gets it and goes full speed and collapses the defence, he's kicking out.

“He's been great for us so far, he had a great training camp, I thought he looked good tonight but just that size and that speed and having his head up and knowing where to find guys and develop as a shooter and as a scorer as time goes on, but Dalano's been great.”

YUTA

The comments Nurse made about Banton with regard to thinking pass first can easily be applied to Watanabe last season. Even he’s admitted to trying to fit into his role last season a bit too much and deferring to the players with bigger reputations.

Watanabe promised during training camp that those days are over and that he’ll be ready to take his turn in the offence whenever it presents itself and this game was a promising sign. There was absolutely no hesitation whatsoever and several occasions where he took initiative to make something happen for the team either with his own dribble penetration or off-ball cuts to the basket.

Champagnie, Svi raise eyebrows

Two players with perhaps wait-and-see expectations coming in were Justin Champagnie and Svi Mikhailiuk and both played with plenty of intent and were catalysts in the Raptors’ early comeback. Champagnie has a real understanding of gaps in the defence as well as rebounding position, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Mikhailiuk came in with a bit of a reputation as a three-point shooter, currently above 36 percent for his career, but impressed more with his dribble penetration. He’s got solid pop off the bounce and was very adept at finding the open man once he drew the attention to finish with five assists. He finished with a second-best plus-18 for the game.

OG the scorer

Anunoby has been turning heads since Day 1 of his rookie season with his defence and at this point he is a known quantity as a perennial all-defensive team candidate. The question going into his fifth season is straightforward: How much can Anunoby score?

The answer boils down to a couple important keys that can unlock a new level, shooting off the dribble and getting to the foul line. Anunoby finished with 21 points in 25 minutes sporting a more feathery stroke than years past and showing a more improved handle as well.

2021-22 might just be the year we see OG, unlocked.

First taste of home

After 584 days, the Raptors were back at Scotiabank Arena. The last time was a 99-96 loss to the Charlotte Hornets that Anunoby remembered well, but Nurse couldn’t at all and probably for the better.

Over 8,000 fans were in attendance, and while that’s less than half the usual capacity, they made their presence felt and reminded the team it’s a long way from having “home fans” cheer against the team like they did in Tampa.

“I think our guys were excited to play, we were certainly excited to get out there,” Nurse said. “I think the buzz in the place was probably a little bit more than you’re expecting in the preseason. Sometimes in the preseason you’re not moving at that pace, all of us, and that includes the coaches, too. I think there was a good buzz and it helped us with a little pep in our step tonight.”

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