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Toronto Raptors Bay Street Journal, February 22: New Bench Mob Finds Life

It’s Monday morning and the markets are back open. Riding a four-game win streak, things continue to look up for the red-hot Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors showed a ton of heart, withstanding multiple runs and ultimately prevailing against the Philadelphia 76ers 110-103 on Sunday night. The team’s game plan was clear: Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid can have theirs, but contain everybody else. This plan was executed to perfection, as the other Sixers outside of those two shot a combined 18-for-54. It wasn’t the prettiest of games for either team, but it was entertaining, and the Raptors should walk away feeling good about themselves.

With all this in mind, let’s look at this morning’s edition of the Bay Street Journal:

Stock Up: Bigger Bench, Better Bench

In last week’s Bay Street Journal, we highlighted a bench duo that needed more time together: Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher. After more time together over the past four games, it looks like the two are a fit and Baynes finally looks comfortable on this team.

Prior to tonight’s game, the Baynes/Boucher duo was posting a defensive rebounding percentage of 88.2 and a net rating of plus-37.1, by far the highest mark of any Raptors two-man lineup that has played 30 minutes or more. On the box score tonight, Baynes and Boucher finished at plus-11 and plus-32, respectively. They are not just beating opponents when these two are coming off the bench together; they are flat out destroying other teams.

From the perspective of style of play, the two big men are puzzle pieces that simply fit together. Baynes is being deployed the way he needs to be without any spacing issues; a strong presence on the interior who can bully other big guys and contest shots at the rim. Boucher, on the other hand, is a speedy and athletic shot-blocking presence who is capable of guarding the perimeter, and the two can occupy the entire floor defensively without stepping on each other’s toes.

With OG Anunoby returning to the lineup this past week, it’s allowed Nick Nurse to change the rotations up, and not only is the small-ball starting five seeing lots of success, but the bench has received a big boost with its two bigs playing in sync. This is a much more ideal situation for both Baynes and Boucher, and they are making the most of it.

Stock Down: Fast Break Defence

Coming into a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, the NBA’s league leaders in fast break points, it was going to be a point of focus and a challenge. Unfortunately, the Raptors struggled to contain Philadelphia’s fast-break all night and it made life difficult for them.

The Raptors have been middle-of-the-pack in terms of limiting opposing transition and fast break points thus far in the season, but tonight, they lost the turnover battle 14-10 and Ben Simmons feasted on them in transition, going off for 28 points on just 11 shots. Anunoby and Norman Powell committed nine turnovers between the two of them, but the majority of these came in the first half.

The good news is, the Raptors really cleaned this up in the second half. Tonight was almost all positive and perhaps it would’ve been an easier game had this not been an issue in the first half. The Raptors rebounded well and they’ll look to continue their momentum as they get these same Sixers again on Tuesday.

Futures Market: Bet on All-Star Freddy

That’s it. That’s the whole message.

With the 2021 NBA All-Star reserves being announced on Tuesday evening, Fred VanVleet has been widely mentioned across the media as a contender to secure one of the guard and/or wild card spots. Needless to say, with the season VanVleet is having, it would be well deserved for him to have that final spot.

VanVleet has been leading by example all season long, ranking near the top of the NBA in several defensive metrics while posting a career-high 20 points per game. VanVleet is one of only two players in the NBA to average 20 or more points, 6 or more assists, and 1.5 or more steals (the other is Denver’s Nikola Jokic). He is everywhere for the Raptors and he is not only making a strong case for an All-NBA Defensive team this season, but he will be in contention for an All-NBA team as well.

It would be an egregious snub for VanVleet to miss the All-Star game this season. Looking at his competition for the final four guard/wild card spots, he should be able to secure at least one. Brooklyn’s James Harden and Boston’s Jaylen Brown appear to be locks for the guard spots, which means for the two wild card slots, it could come down to any of VanVleet, Trae Young, Zach LaVine, or Jayson Tatum.

VanVleet’s team has a better record and he has been better defensively than both Young and LaVine. Tatum has been a force when he’s played this year, but he missed extended time in January due to health and safety protocols, while VanVleet has appeared in every game for the Raptors.

Freddy would bet on himself in these situations, and we are too. Coaches: do the right thing and vote Fred!

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