Wednesday marked the beginning of the 2022/2023 NBA regular season for the majority of the league. The Toronto Raptors started off their campaign edging out a win over the revamped Cleveland Cavaliers, which some have pegged to finish atop the eastern conference.
There are a lot of positives to take away from the home-opener and a few things that need to tighten up. After a strong first quarter, the Raptors were outscored 35-23 in the second which ended up leading to an 8 point deficit. It was ultimately the 4th quarter, where they clamped down on defense, out-rebounded Cleveland’s bigs (especially on the offensive glass) and closed the game strong on the wings of a 10-2 run.
It’s easy to focus your attention on players like Scottie Barnes, which literally everyone has eyes on and expects a large leap forward. The heartbeat of this team, Fred VanVleet is poised to have another stellar year as well, with Nick Nurse utilizing him not only as a primary ball handler, but in a number of off-ball schemes to boot.
Personally, I have my focus on Pascal Siakam who I think is set to make the most noise on this already talented Raptors squad.
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Spicy P has already gone on record to say that he wants to be a ‘Top 5’ player as per his media day appearance. Pretty bold statement and for Raptors fans, exciting to hear that he has that ambition. But does he have the tools to reach these new heights?
The drive is definitely there. For starters, the Raptors and Pascal did not reach an agreement, where he could have earned a 3 years/$125 million extension. This tells me that Pascal is betting on himself, just like another Raptor I know. If Siakam notches an All-NBA team like he did last year, that puts him at supermax status. That alone is enough fuel for fire.
What we want to see is more of Siakam slashing to the basket and getting creative in the paint. Nick Nurse has said to look for Pascal and Scottie driving to the rim, which will lead to more catch and shoot threes for Fred and Gary Trent Jr. This means that you might not see as many 3-point attempts from Pascal as he went 1-3 opening night, as a part of 9-20 total shooting.
He led the Raps with 23 points and 11 rebounds in the win. It was great to see him banging and bruising in the paint on offense, both in half-court and transition. He was very effective in the mid-range which was an issue for the Raps last year, as they among the league’s worst. While there are areas of improvement, like Siakam fouling out late in the 4th (which was also an issue last season) this was an all-around effort leading to a promising start for the squad.
Out of the entire roster, I’m highest on Pascal Siakam. There are still a lot who would disagree with me, but last season showed that he can return to that pre-bubble form. A full season of healthy Pascal is what we need, so look for him to take an even bigger stride as this Raptors squad looks to surpass last year’s 48 wins.
Touring stand-up comic with Yuk Yuk’s. Host of the ‘Down By Two’ Podcast and ‘DB2 Bets.’ Take him on the over.