The Toronto Raptors are off to a pedestrian 2-2 start. A start that will most likely get worse before it gets better as they still have another 4 games left in this early 6 game Western road trip. Two early losses is nothing to panic about in fact, with both of them coming away to San Antonio and Golden State. What should be at the forefront this early in the season is the remarkable play of their second unit. Two in particular who have contributed to that success are have played together before in college with the Utah Utes but we will get to them in a moment.
CJ Miles bringing some Showtime to Toronto! pic.twitter.com/n0XMhBtBO0
— NBA Australia (@NBA_AU) October 11, 2017
The Raptors bench have quickly and sometimes dominantly, outscored and outplayed their counterparts. Allowing coach Dwane Casey to trust them enough as a team. When Jonas Valanciunas was injured, Casey inserted Lucas Noriega into the starting lineup. When Bebe couldn’t play in the next game, coach dropped Pascal Siakam in, choosing a second time to go deeper down the bench. This give the veteran CJ Miles and the college teammates Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl more time to get accustomed to one another.
What sounded like a good idea during the off-season, is proving to be right on the money through the first few games. CJ Miles has been very effective coming off the bench that people are already mentioning his name as a potential 6th man candidate. Its early, we know but he has averaged 12.5 points per game this season and shooting 40% from behind the arc. His game is a perfect fit within the Raptors new 3-point shooting style and as the lone veteran on the floor, he is getting used to the different roles of teammate, teacher and friend.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) October 24, 2017
Speaking of friends, those Utes have really jumped out of the gate as well. Delon Wright is in the unenviable position of replacing local fan favourite, Canadian Corey Joseph. But at 6’5 Wright is an oversized guard and that provides some of its own advantages. He can be disruptive on defence as his lanky, long frame allows him to not only alter shots but alter passes along the perimeter as well. His height not only helps with some rebounding, but helps his passing as he sees increased vision on the court. Add some very good basketball IQ, even for such little NBA experience, and you can see that his varied stat line is not an aberration. He has been averaging 9.5 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block per game.
He has made mistakes this year and is far from a completed player. His 3 point shooting has to improve and I believe that has more to do with his decision process than it does with any kind of mechanics. Right now it seems as if he is still trying to decide whether he should take a shot or not and that mental anguish can hinder performance. Once he gets comfortable and doesn’t have to think about it, his shooting percentage will improve. This is the type of player the Raptors hoped they had in Wright and why they felt they could trade Joseph for CJ Miles in the off season.
As confident as I was in Wright’s abilities, what Poeltl is doing this year completely took me off guard. I am a firm believer that bigs need about three years in the NBA before they are comfortable. It looks like it took the Austrian just one year. He helps on both ends of the floor playing some simple, intelligent and deceptively quick basketball. He has averaged 9.5 points, 9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. That includes getting a double-double in his last two games.
Poeltl’s tempo and energy have been infectious and he has been a solid reason why this second unit has been so formidable. He also has areas to improve upon such as his free throw shooting. At 57.1% that’s even bad for a big man. Don’t know yet what his range is, but having a mid-range shot or (dare I say) a three point shot, will really help round him out. Asking for too much am I? Probably, but he has surprised once, so who says he can’t keep doing it.
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