The Pascal puzzle and four other questions for the Raptors’ second half

It is smart business practice to take what you’ve experienced and apply it to future endeavours and it goes for the Raptors as it does for any corporation in the world.The team has come through an up-and-down first half of the NBA season — 17-19 as it prepares to start the second half Thursday against Atlanta in Tampa, Fla. — and it has shown flashes of being able to vault to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. But that’s only if some things they saw in the first half are fixed or maintained in the second half.Here is a look at five of them:Can Pascal Siakam regain his all-star form? It’s a thorny issue, one that has layers beyond the comprehension of everyone except the individual involved. But how Pascal Siakam comes back to start the second half of the regular season is going to be fascinating to watch and hugely significant to the Raptors chances.Siakam, by his own admission, did not handle the playoff bubble life well last season. He said he lost his joy for the game, part of his spirit, some of his energy. And he some difficult stretches in the first half, like a six-game stretch in late January when he had 15 points or fewer four times.Now he has to come back after having missed almost two weeks, at least, because of the NBA’s health and safety COVID-19 protocols. Whether he was infected by the coronavirus or not, that’s a long time away from the game for someone who thrives on constant work.The Raptors need him to be more the all-star Siakam than the run-of-the-mill Siakam to have a successful second half. He was too spotty in the first 36 games.Will any of the reserves stand up? It’s a flaw in the construction of the roster in many ways. There are far too many players with the same basic skills in backup roles and it’s no wonder coach Nick Nurse goes through a group of them nearly every game trying to find a combination that works.None of the possibilities — Terence Davis, Stanley Johnson, DeAndre’ Bembry, Aron Baynes, Yuta Watanabe, Matt Thomas, Patrick McCaw — have really stood out. Davis leads the group in points (7.1) per game; Baynes leads them in minutes (19.7), largely because he has started 26 games before giving way most nights to Chris Boucher. Beyond that, the numbers are similar.Some nights, some have been good; some nights the search for contributions has been futile. Evening out that process, getting one of them or two of them to seize the opportunity and take the job full time is a must in the second half.Do the Raptors need to make a deal? We are about two weeks away from the March 25 trade deadline and president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster have some hard decisions to make.Some of it goes to the backup situation: If they can deal for one proven veteran wing to come off the bench and be consistent, it would be a huge boost. They have resisted the urge so far to seriously consider roster moves but they do have a variety of cards they might play. Among them: dealing expiring contracts for ones that run out past this season. although they would cut into cap space they might be saving for this summer; and dealing some of the draft picks they have in the next five seasons to sweeten any deal.It’s not easy because there are so many teams still in contention and finding a willing trade partner with something you want and something they need from you is a lot easier said that done. But it’s going to be something to watch between now and March 25.Can Norm Powell and OG Anunoby continue their growth? Powell and Anunoby had tremendous first halves. Powell (18.4 points per game) forced the Raptors to change the way they play, with coach Nick Nurse going to a smaller lineup, because he was so productive as a starter.Anunoby, still plagued by injuries that kept him out of 10 games and caught up in the COVID-19 web that forced him out of at least two more, has been the versatile defensive presence the Raptors need but his improvement as a scorer (13.8 points per game), especially near the basket, has been a pleasant surprise.The two have tended in the past to be a bit up and down, but the Raptors can’t afford that this season. They need the same type of production in the remaining 36 games.Can the Raptors handle the grind of the schedule? In many ways, the Raptors were lucky in the first half of the season. They had only one game postponed because of COVID-19 — some teams had as many as four — and only lost significant players for two of their first 36 outings, barring any developments over the all-star break.But the second half is no picnic. The Raptors will have to play 36 games in just over two months and how they handle that load will go a long way to determining where they finish. Nurse has already started talking about finding games in which to rest his heavily used players (Kyle Lowry turns 35 this month, Fred VanVleet is among the leaders in minutes played). They’ll need some breaks, like no long-term injury issues and no further rash of coronavirus absences, and

The Pascal puzzle and four other questions for the Raptors’ second half

It is smart business practice to take what you’ve experienced and apply it to future endeavours and it goes for the Raptors as it does for any corporation in the world.

The team has come through an up-and-down first half of the NBA season — 17-19 as it prepares to start the second half Thursday against Atlanta in Tampa, Fla. — and it has shown flashes of being able to vault to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. But that’s only if some things they saw in the first half are fixed or maintained in the second half.

Here is a look at five of them:

  • Can Pascal Siakam regain his all-star form? It’s a thorny issue, one that has layers beyond the comprehension of everyone except the individual involved. But how Pascal Siakam comes back to start the second half of the regular season is going to be fascinating to watch and hugely significant to the Raptors chances.

Siakam, by his own admission, did not handle the playoff bubble life well last season. He said he lost his joy for the game, part of his spirit, some of his energy. And he some difficult stretches in the first half, like a six-game stretch in late January when he had 15 points or fewer four times.

Now he has to come back after having missed almost two weeks, at least, because of the NBA’s health and safety COVID-19 protocols. Whether he was infected by the coronavirus or not, that’s a long time away from the game for someone who thrives on constant work.

The Raptors need him to be more the all-star Siakam than the run-of-the-mill Siakam to have a successful second half. He was too spotty in the first 36 games.

  • Will any of the reserves stand up? It’s a flaw in the construction of the roster in many ways. There are far too many players with the same basic skills in backup roles and it’s no wonder coach Nick Nurse goes through a group of them nearly every game trying to find a combination that works.

None of the possibilities — Terence Davis, Stanley Johnson, DeAndre’ Bembry, Aron Baynes, Yuta Watanabe, Matt Thomas, Patrick McCaw — have really stood out. Davis leads the group in points (7.1) per game; Baynes leads them in minutes (19.7), largely because he has started 26 games before giving way most nights to Chris Boucher. Beyond that, the numbers are similar.

Some nights, some have been good; some nights the search for contributions has been futile. Evening out that process, getting one of them or two of them to seize the opportunity and take the job full time is a must in the second half.

  • Do the Raptors need to make a deal? We are about two weeks away from the March 25 trade deadline and president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster have some hard decisions to make.

Some of it goes to the backup situation: If they can deal for one proven veteran wing to come off the bench and be consistent, it would be a huge boost. They have resisted the urge so far to seriously consider roster moves but they do have a variety of cards they might play. Among them: dealing expiring contracts for ones that run out past this season. although they would cut into cap space they might be saving for this summer; and dealing some of the draft picks they have in the next five seasons to sweeten any deal.

It’s not easy because there are so many teams still in contention and finding a willing trade partner with something you want and something they need from you is a lot easier said that done. But it’s going to be something to watch between now and March 25.

  • Can Norm Powell and OG Anunoby continue their growth? Powell and Anunoby had tremendous first halves. Powell (18.4 points per game) forced the Raptors to change the way they play, with coach Nick Nurse going to a smaller lineup, because he was so productive as a starter.

Anunoby, still plagued by injuries that kept him out of 10 games and caught up in the COVID-19 web that forced him out of at least two more, has been the versatile defensive presence the Raptors need but his improvement as a scorer (13.8 points per game), especially near the basket, has been a pleasant surprise.

The two have tended in the past to be a bit up and down, but the Raptors can’t afford that this season. They need the same type of production in the remaining 36 games.

  • Can the Raptors handle the grind of the schedule? In many ways, the Raptors were lucky in the first half of the season. They had only one game postponed because of COVID-19 — some teams had as many as four — and only lost significant players for two of their first 36 outings, barring any developments over the all-star break.

But the second half is no picnic. The Raptors will have to play 36 games in just over two months and how they handle that load will go a long way to determining where they finish. Nurse has already started talking about finding games in which to rest his heavily used players (Kyle Lowry turns 35 this month, Fred VanVleet is among the leaders in minutes played).

They’ll need some breaks, like no long-term injury issues and no further rash of coronavirus absences, and they’ll need the same good fortune in the second half that they had in the first. And that’s a big ask.

Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps

Source : Toronto Star More