Just look at what the Toronto Raptors did this past offseason and it's clear they’re taking a very different approach to roster construction. While most of the league has gone all-in for three-point shooters, the Raptors have zagged, spurning the expensive sharpshooter market, and instead devoted their attention to defensive stoppers and versatility. It’s a strategy that comes from an unwavering belief in their developmental program and the magic touch from Nick Nurse’s shooting school.
Even if it’s not always pretty, Monday night’s 118-113 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers showed why that plan should work in the long run.
Take Norman Powell, for example. When the 28-year-old now-Trail Blazers guard first arrived in Toronto in 2015 there were major questions about his three-point shooting. He averaged 31.4% from behind the arc in college and the scouting report on him raised red flags offensively. But Toronto got to work with the UCLA product, tweaking his stroke a little bit, and the results speak for themselves.
“He’s almost doubled his percentage of what he shot in college,” Nurse said Monday. “I always say this, we can give ‘em suggestions and make tweaks, do things, and then it goes squarely right on their table to go to work on it. And you guys know how hard that guy worked to become an NBA shooter and now an NBA elite shooter.”
Or how about OG Anunoby, who came out against Portland and nailed six three-pointers in the first half alone? He was a bit of an inconsistent shooter in college and was considered more of a defensive prospect than an offensive difference-maker. Now, five years into his NBA career, the progress has been astounding. Anunoby is no longer just a catch-and-shoot 3-and-D specialist, he’s showing far more offensive range, creating for himself occasionally and turning into a true three-point marksman. He led all Raptors with 28 points against the Trail Blazers.
The problem for Toronto on Monday, however, wasn’t the offense. Even with so many players still developing on that side of the court, the Raptors’ defense looked lost against the high octane Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum repeatedly beat Toronto's defense for blow-by buckets at the rim or deadly three-pointers. Just when Toronto cut Portland's lead down to four thanks to a 7-0 run, McCollum nailed a floater and found Larry Nance Jr. for a transition dunk to close out the night.
Fred VanVleet did go toe to toe with Lillard down the stretch, looking every bit his equal in the fourth quarter. After a slow start, scoring just five points through three quarters, Toronto's lead guard broke out for 11 points in the fourth, nailing a trio of clutch three-pointers to keep the Raptors alive late.
The Trail Blazers certainly deserve credit for the offensive firepower they showed. They had one of their best shooting performance of the season, killing Toronto with a 56% mark from the floor, but the Raptors are supposed to be a team built to prevent nights like that from happening. Unfortunately for Toronto, Nurse's hyper-aggressive defensive scheme has created a few too many open shots for opposing teams to take advantage of.
Barnes T’ed Up For Clapping?
Rookie Scottie Barnes was involved in a very strange moment in the second quarter. He was called for a very ticky-tack foul on Lillard and quickly turned around and started clapping to himself. It was apparently enough to warrant his first career technical.
Up Next: Utah Jazz
The Raptors will have a couple of days off before their Thursday night date with the Utah Jazz.