Jalen McDaniels came onto the floor in the second quarter of the Toronto Raptors’ game Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets. This wasn’t particularly notable, except McDaniels hadn’t played meaningful rotation minutes for about three weeks leading into the game.
The Raptors were missing no players because of injury. (Rookie Gradey Dick is in the G League.) Instead, coach Darko Rajaković seemed to be giving McDaniels a chance, seemingly out of nowhere. The Raptors’ depth has been letting them down all season, and reserve-heavy lineups have been especially bad lately.
McDaniels was fine, blatant uncalled traveling violations notwithstanding. The Raptors lost 115-103 to the Nets mostly because the starters had a three-minute meltdown to end the first half. The main players didn’t make enough defensive plays down the stretch either. However, there’s a larger question that hovers over this team: Are minutes a meritocracy, or are the Raptors focused on finding out what they have and developing their players?
It is a faulty question, because the answer doesn’t have to lie at one of the extremes. Saying that, you cannot scratch multiple itches at the same time. As the Raptors’ hybrid units struggle, it is tough to know what matters and what doesn’t.
If it is wins the Raptors want, Otto Porter Jr. should be playing more nights than he is not. He is not a cure-all for the Raptors’ flaws, but he is someone who will be in the right place, make his share of shots and facilitate ball movement, all while having some defensive utility. He has played just 110 minutes this season, admittedly a small sample. In that time, the Raptors have outscored opponents by 6.5 points per 100 possessions, and they have an offensive rating of 116.5. The latter is comfortably the best mark of any Raptor to play in more than five games.
If the Raptors are more concerned with developing players, it is still a lot to ask lineups to function with multiple non-shooters on the floor. McDaniels, Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher — none of them are respected beyond the arc. It is time to pick one or two of those players and roll with them and prize shooting at the other spots.
These lineups that produce cramped spacing don’t do much to advance Scottie Barnes’ development, which should be the organizational North Star. Barnes is still stuffing the box score, but his efficiency is starting to lag. So often, he and Pascal Siakam are playing volleyball off the glass, trying to get a put-back, surrounded by opponents. If players such as Porter, Gary Trent Jr. and Malachi Flynn are around them? Maybe there are more available kickouts. As it is, it is going to be tough for the Raptors stars to breathe.
As good as Barnes has been, he still isn’t a master manipulator of the floor. With the Raptors’ shooting as poor as it is, it is difficult to ask him to direct the offence without either Dennis Schröder or Siakam playing alongside him. When he started the second quarter with OG Anunoby as the only starters, the attack was miserable, and the Raptors weren’t touching the paint.
That is the point. Barnes has to become more confident as a ballhandler, but it is hard to do it when there is no room to roam. Sure, this is a roster-construction problem more than a minutes-distribution problem, but the minutes can be aligned to make life easier on Barnes. Siakam too.
Those lineups would yield defensive issues. Such is reality with this roster.
• This is my plea to my editors to allow me to investigate why third quarters of NBA games seem to devolve into free-throw parades more than any other quarter. I don’t know if this is true, but it feels true. There were 14 fouls called in the quarter Tuesday, seemingly all of them at the start of shooting motions.
• Boucher: 13 points in 12 minutes. The energy he brings running the floor is great, but sometimes you just need a guy’s shots to fall. The slingshot was accurate on Tuesday. Trent added 15 points in 25 minutes, hitting some huge shots as the Nets were determined to make the Raptors try to beat them from the perimeter. On the whole, the Nets’ plan worked. The Raptors offered up a 38.6/36.1/63.2 percent shooting split from the field, 3-point range and free-throw line. On Sunday against Cleveland: 41.6/25/69.
• Rajaković called for an intentional foul of Nic Claxton outside of the two-minute window when such a foul would result in a free throw and the opponent maintaining the ball, hoping the poor free-throw shooter would clank a few. Claxton split a pair.
• Hey now, Scottie. Due to his passing, Barnes is at his absolute best when he is catching the ball on the roll. On the other hand, he took some really questionable jumpers.
• It is hard to play centrefield on a pseudo two-on-one better than Jakob Poeltl did in the second quarter. After a rough start to the season, Poeltl has really looked like himself over the last few games.
• Siakam has to keep taking 3-pointers when they are in the flow of the offence. He missed all four of his attempts in the first half but held up on one in the second half, torpedoing a possession. If you miss a 3, at least there is an offensive rebounding opportunity. Easier said than done when you’re struggling from deep as Siakam is. He is shooting 20.8 percent from deep on 72 attempts this season.
• It would be great if Anunoby made some strides as a playmaker, and he does in flashes. At this point, it is unrealistic to expect him to become above average in that area. At the very least, he can cut down the mistakes. Trying to throw a diagonal entry pass into the post from the middle of the floor is a bad idea in almost any circumstance. The Raptors managed to get the resulting loose ball, with Siakam turning it into two points, but that is an unwise decision.
• Way not to waste your jumps, OG. I’m sure he saw the whole play developing when he gave Claxton control of a jump ball, setting up a spectacular play from Barnes.
• The Nets’ City Edition jerseys look like someone has stuck different-coloured strips of Kinesio tape all over a grey uniform. I’m glad my esteemed sartorial-minded colleagues agree.
(Top photo of Scottie Barnes: Brad Penner / USA Today)