Toronto has started their season with a terrible record. What could they do to get on the right track?
The first eight games of the season have been anything but promising for the Raptors, who are just 2-6 through eight games. Toronto has had a bad start to the 2020-2021 season and their biggest problem seems to be the decline of Pascal Siakam, who is coming off of a breakout, All-Star season. Ever since the bubble began, his play has seen a staggering dip. At first it could be classified as simply a slump, but now Toronto fans are beginning to lose faith in the 5th year player. After being shut down in the playoffs, Siakam hasn’t been the same player. The NBA has since adjusted to his style of play and has begun to put smaller defenders on him. This has resulted in a significant drop in scoring (from 22.9 to 20), and a drop in FG% as well (51.2% to 48%).
With the All-Star forward being 6”9’, it only seems logical to put larger defenders on him to match up with his size. The league did just that in the 2019-2020 season and this led to Siakam thriving on the offensive end, but ever since Jaylen Brown, who is only 6’6”, locked up Siakam in the postseason, the rest of the NBA has followed suit by putting smaller defenders on him. This allows for the defenders to match up with his speed instead of his size. Siakam is at his best when he can use his speed to blow by defenders and get into the lane. Unfortunately for Toronto, he does not have enough precision to get past defenders like Rudy Gay or Jayson Tatum. It is worth noting that his post game isn’t very polished either, which means that he can’t consistently put his back to the basket and back down these smaller defenders.
The new lineup for this season only adds to his troubles. Last season he played alongside Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, both of which are stretch-bigs who can stretch the floor and space out to the perimeter on offense, allowing more space for Siakam to attack the basket. Now, Ibaka and Gasol have been replaced by Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher, the former of which is shooting 20% from 3 this season.
This year, we have seen too many plays in which the defense stepped up on Siakam, allowing Baynes to get open, but Baynes not being able to finish at the rim. Meanwhile, Boucher is averaging 12.7 points on 51.9 percent shooting, providing the Raptors with some scoring. One problem with him is that he is 6’9” but only 200 pounds, which negatively affects their rebounding and defending abilities while not providing the playmaking and ball handling that a player of his weight may provide.
Fortunately there is one option that they could try that may jump-start their offense: Small Ball. Switching to a small lineup, with OG Anunoby and Siakam at the 4 and the 5, they could match up with larger defenders and utilize their speed to get to the basket. This lineup hasn’t been used much this season, but many are hopeful that this can be the strategy that will bring back the Toronto offense that we saw last season. Clearly, there will be some downfalls to using this lineup. They already start two guards that are below 6’2” (Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet), and they would also have to choose between two undersized guards in Norman Powell and Terrence Davis to put at the small forward position. This would give up a lot of size and would likely have a negative impact on their defense.
Instead, if the Raptors feel like it’s time to go into rebuild mode, they could trade Kyle Lowry for a couple of young, talented players. The trade makes sense for both Lowry and the Raptors, as Lowry is about to turn 35 and is likely eager to compete for a current championship contender while the Raptors could hit the rebuild button and acquire multiple young players in exchange for Lowry. This entire trade concept relies on if the Raptors are willing to go into a rebuild, or if they still want to compete for a championship this year.
Let’s assume Toronto wants to compete this year and utilize a smaller lineup. This lineup would give up a lot of rebounds and a big size advantage. It is also safe to say that this defense would have a very hard time dealing with teams like the Sixers and the Bucks. It is obvious that Coach Nick Nurse needs to change something. Going small won’t solve all of their problems, but it is the best choice within the limited number of options that they have, and with the No. 28 ranked offense in the league, it may be exactly what they need.