There's no such thing as a lost season in the NBA.
It's a lesson Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he learned last season as his depleted Warriors finished the 2019-20 campaign with the NBA's worst record.
“Any time you have a difficult year you have to find the small victories within," he said prior to playing the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. "You have to plan for what’s next. You can’t just wallow in your self-pity. You have to stay positive and push for what’s coming next. For us last year, that meant developing young players and really trying to give experience to young guys who can make an impact for us in the future."
That's what this year has increasingly become about for the Raptors. Sure, Friday night's 130-77 victory over the Stephen Curry and Draymond Green-less Warriors was nice. Sure, it may have been one of the strangest nights of the season as the Raptors took a 60-point lead midway through the third quarter, but in a down year, it's more about what happened inside the game than the actual results.
In that sense, there was a lot to like about Toronto's future. For one, Pascal Siakam, who turned 27 on Friday, looked about as good as he has all season. He was attacking the rim aggressively and having his way with Warriors rookie and 2020 first-overall pick James Wiseman.
His season-high 36 points were the most points scored by a Raptors player on his birthday.
While Siakam's development is crucial to the future of the organization, the biggest difference makers for the future are the tertiary pieces, the younger, less developed players on the Raptors roster. That has meant giving OG Anunoby a little more of the offensive workload, something they've done ever since Norman Powell was traded at last Thursday's trade deadline. On Friday, he finished the night with 21 points, most of which came off the dribble and inside the arc, the type of points Anunoby has historically struggled to get.
Then there's the newest member of the team, Gary Trent Jr., who had his second straight impressive offensive showing. He's beginning to show that lights-out shooting stroke that made him such an attractive piece for Toronto to acquire. After shooting just 4-for-17 in his first three games with the Raptors, he's 12-for-20 from behind the arc in the past two games.
"Looks like his confidence is growing, right, and it looks like the expectations of him to come out and hunt those [shots]," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "I mean when he went up, you're expecting them to go. It's almost like a shock when it doesn't go in."
That kind of stroke has created some room for the Raptors to score inside, especially Siakam who has seen his playmaking come along this year, forcing teams to respect his kick-out pass.
Trent finished the game a 34 points and a franchise-record plus-54, the second-most in NBA history, in 30 minutes.
Even further down the roster is rookie Malachi Flynn who put together his best performance of the season, scoring 16 points while dishing out five assists and playing impressive defence in 30 minutes.
"I think the biggest thing was we need him to get downhill and get aggressive towards the rim and those are the best plays that he made," Nurse said. "He took it down there and made some layups, created them for himself, and really made good decisions tonight."
The lone low light of the night came midway through the third quarter when Fred VanVleet was forced to leave the game with a strained left hip flexor.
"I saw Fred, he said he would be alright, but I don't know what that means," Nurse said. "I haven't heard about a scheduled MRI or anything but usually they'll do one of those just to make sure."
Up Next: Washington Wizards
The Raptors will have two days off before the Washington Wizards come to town. For those cheering for a Raptors tank this season, this could be a crucial game considering Toronto is one game up on Washington in the lottery standings.