Amit Mann breaks down how improved decision-making and skill development can help the Raptors win a playoff game similar to Game 6 vs. the 76ers and potentially advance past the first round in the 2023 NBA playoffs.
AMIT MANN: As we prepare for the 2022-2023 NBA season, I thought it might be fun to look back as we look forward to this upcoming year of the Toronto Raptors. Game 6 against the 76ers. Now as we know in that series, Fred VanVleet is hurt. Gary Trent Jr. gets sick. Scottie Barnes sprains an ankle. Thad Young has a thumb issue. There are a lot of factors that went into how the result went down.
However, in Game 6, a lot of the same faces are going to be in the rotation this upcoming year. We're in that game. And I think Game 6 offers a great example for several players through some improved decision making and some skill development how the Raptors could win a game like that as they look to advance past the first round in 2023.
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OK. Let's start with Pascal Siakam. In wins in that series, he averaged 28 points per game on above 50% shooting, and in losses 18 points a game on below 50% shooting. Now in Game 6, he was cooking the 76ers. In the second quarter, he had 16 points overall. It was a great quarter for him. But then late in that first half, the 76ers started to double him. And in most occasions, he was making the right decision. He was composed. His passes were on the money. That's all well and good. He was doing that. He was doing it throughout the season.
However, if he wants to become the guy-- you know the guy, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, that guy, his bag of tricks has to be full. He has to be comfortable in every spot. And you've got to have counters on counters on counters to whatever the defense is going to throw at you. Because they're going to take your first best move, your second best move, and your third best move away because they're keying in on you. They know who you are. They're spending all kinds of time looking at tape, investigating what your flaws are.
So plays like these when the 76ers are rolling, Toronto wasn't able to get good looks. Pascal has to get to a point where these are buckets. He's got to stop the bleeding. He has to be the person who does that. These are tough but makeable shots. And when the defense isn't letting you in the paint, your jump shot has to be your go-to, whether it's pull-ups off the catch, making teams play in the pick-and-roll, or deep 2's where you create separation.
That's the next step for him. He's got to be able to orchestrate offense for himself further away from the basket. And that way, he can become a Shaq-approved star, if you will.
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL: He--
- A marquee guy?
SHAQUILLE O'NEAL: Yeah, I'm looking for a marquee guy. No disrespect to Siakam. I love the way he's worked on his game. But I wouldn't give him the star status, not yet. He's close though, very, very close.
AMIT MANN: OK. Scottie Barnes, Rookie of the Year. There isn't too much to say about him. He was laboring in that series. He missed a few games. He turned his ankle. He wasn't where he wanted to be in Game 6. But overall though, he's below league average 3-point shot was the reason why Joel Embiid could roam the paint and close off gaps. And if Barnes is hitting, like, 35% of his 3-point shots next season, it really does open up the spacing for the Toronto Raptors.
Also, in case you missed it, I spoke to his trainer, Brian Macon, earlier on in the off season. And one of the things he said that Scottie is working on is chess, not checkers, when it comes to his offensive game. That means learning how to bait and lure the opposition into what exactly he wants to do on the offensive end. And that way things are happening more with purpose. He's going to be moving faster. And the Raptors do need more paint pressure. Pascal Siakam is the guy at it. Then after that, there's a pretty big dropoff. If Scottie can improve there, his pull-up 2's, he loves those. He can be more dominant on the offensive end and isolation and post-ups. It's going to be a huge help to the Raptors.
Moving to OG Anunoby, he got in foul trouble in this game, which resulted in him only playing 9 minutes in the first half. His third foul was absolutely BS. I still maintain it. That was a terrible call. However, there was a stretch early on in that second quarter where OG Anunoby was anchoring the Raptor's defense. He was hedging, offering timely traps, battling in the post against Joel Embiid, and calling out rotations. He is an all-NBA level defender. He is that good at it. But he hasn't been able to show it over the course of an entire season. This has to be the year where he does it.
And on offense, I mentioned earlier, the Raptors need more paint pressure. And if the reports were true that OG is indeed unhappy with his offensive role, that's fair. I get it. But you've got to be able to put pressure on the paint. You have to be able to lure other players towards you as you go towards the basket. You've got to finish through contact. You've got to be able to show some more self-generation abilities. And then, when you're in the paint, kick-out passes, getting clean looks for your teammates. he is a big shot maker. He is one of the best 3 [INAUDIBLE] players in the NBA. He just has to stay healthy so we can see it over the course of an entire NBA season. So please stay healthy, sir.
Up next, Gary Trent Jr. We got the full Gary Trent Jr. experience in Game 6. Let me tell you, some beautiful pull-ups, and turnaround jumpers in the mid-range area, a few catch-and-shoot 3's. It all looked very good from that standpoint.
And we also saw the areas he's got to work on-- becoming a better playmaker, reading defenses, and seeking the best shot instead of his shot. He's got that really unique tough-shot-making ability. And I'm sure at point, that does cloud his judgment on what is a tough shot and what is a makeable shot. But getting the best look, the easiest look for himself, for his teammates as well, is going to be an additional skill that he has, which is going to make him a more well-rounded scorer.
And speaking of being a well-rounded scorer, he is on the verge of becoming a three-level scorer if he can finish around the basket a little bit better. Now, the awkward, off-balance runners sometimes go in, but are very tough shots. Either accept and initiate the contact, become a better finisher in the restricted area by being a little bit more silky smooth and creative, or jump stops into floaters. A lot of players who are under 6' 5", 6' 4", 6' 3", that's their go-to from the five to nine feet range from the basket.
Precious Achiuwa had his moments against the 76ers in that series. We saw him blow by Joel Embiid. We saw him hit tough 3's. But in Game 6, we saw the things that he has to work on. That is, limiting unforced errors, recognizing the second level of defense, and becoming a better finisher in the restricted area.
The Raptors offense was laboring at times. And I'm sure Precious was trying to make things happen in Game 6. And the Raptors, they do need his 3-point shooting, explosion towards the basket, like I said, and offensive rebound hunting. But they could also use less ill-timed drives, which is essentially reading where the low help is so he can anticipate where shots should come from, and working on finishing in the restricted area, as he shot just 59% from that range last season.
Chris Boucher now-- and this was the crown jewel of Chris Boucher role player games. Let me tell you, OK? OG Anunoby gets in foul trouble. He comes in and makes an instant impact-- offensive rebounding, attacking the paint off closeouts, smart and timely cuts towards the basket.
He shot 40% from 3 in the six-game series against the 76ers, and hit some big shots. A league average 3-point shot, along with everything he did in that game, would make him an integral piece for the Raptors in the regular season and also in their postseason rotation as well. They need his energy.
On the topic of 3-point shooting, in this series, Philly shot 40% from 3. The Raptors shot 30% from 3. This was going to be one of the factors that would separate these teams heading into the series. And we saw how it played out.
You think about Thad Young, he hurt his thumb. He wasn't shooting very well at all. But he did shoot 52% on corner 3's with the Raptors when he was with them. So maybe that percentage is a little bit better than we actually saw in that series.
And then you think about Otto Porter Jr. being in the mix, a healthy Fred VanVleet, hopefully, and some additional offseason development from a few players like Pascal and Scottie. The Raptors need better 3-point shooting, full stop. That's how it's got to be when teams throw zones at them. When Pascal Siakam is seeing a wall in front of him, when he makes those kickout passes, players have to hit those shots. And that's going to be a difference between the Raptors winning games and losing games, and evolving their halfcourt offense as well.
And finally, defensively-- this is more of a philosophical question than anything. But as we saw, James Harden was carving up the Raptors defense. They decided they wanted to hound him on the perimeter. And he made them pay.
Toronto had success at times with it, not so much on other occasions. With this kind of style, part of the scheming was to create and generate turnovers to kickstart their transition offense, which was going to make up for a bottom five halfcourt offense that we saw last season. Do the Raptors continue to play that style? That is the question.
Do you do it against players like James Harden and Steph Curry and Chris Paul, players who are so good in the pick and roll, and find the little avenues to create advantages for their teams? Or do you say against those guys, let's rely on our athletic wings, our wingspan, our abilities to close off gaps, to play suffocating one-on-one defense?
And then against some less experienced backcourts, you decide to be more aggressive. Do you mix it up a little bit? Is it a bit of both between them?
Will the Raptors halfcourt offense be much better? Could it be middle of the pack instead of bottom five? That is a question that the Raptors and Nick Nurse and company are going to be trying to figure out during training camp and in the early portions of the regular season.
My name is Amit Mann. Follow me on Twitter @Amit_Mann. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. We're going to be here all season, and we'll talk to you soon.