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TORONTO. Of particular importance was the Raptors’ game against Atlanta on Saturday.

Depending on how quickly some players recover from injuries, particularly Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, the Raptors could be betting underdogs in nine of their next 10 games. Eight of those games will come on the road, where the Raptors are 5-13. That would send the team into the precipice of the trade deadline.

The Raptors fell short, never getting within seven points in the fourth quarter in a 114-103 straight loss to the Atlanta Hawks, an equally disappointing if significantly more dysfunctional team. As much as any game in January is a must-win, this one was it. The Raptors were poor on both ends of the ball.

“We have a long way to go with some consistency,” coach Nick Nourse said after the game. “I…I’d like to say we’re making some progress just being ready to go in terms of energy and communication and all that stuff, and then tonight it just felt like we didn’t have a good energy to start with. game.”

Or all of it, really. With a few exceptions, the Raptors couldn’t string together multiple stops on the night. It’s a thread. Here’s what we learned or re-learned during the Raptors’ six-game homestand.

Scotty Barnes has found his role (for now)

Scotty Barnes has found his role on this year’s team. Forget the point guard; Barnes is a screen-controlling bully.

Using Barnes as a screener was always a smart way to take advantage of his transition while his handle and shooting are still developing. As the Raptors saw rebound center after rebound center, they started using more pick-and-rolls. That put Barnes with his size and passing in situations that required quicker decisions.

Barnes had a 6-of-30 assist-to-turnover ratio during the homestand.

Barnes said he’s focused on getting the ball to the sideline, making it easier to move the ball. He cannot fully zero in on it because it is not an end in itself. At times, especially in the Milwaukee and New York games, Barnes was too content to make the next pass rather than use his dribble to take up space and move the defense that way. In the fourth quarter against Milwaukee, he showed he can score against some of the best edge defenders in the league. The more balance it shows, the more unpredictable it will become. Over time, this should have positive consequences for crime.

With that said, Barnes has been more impactful than he has been in this role all season. The longer he’s at it, the better he should get a feel for finding that balance. As it is, he’s already handling it pretty well.

The Atlanta game was different for Barnes because Atlanta didn’t usually put center Onyeka Okongwu on him. After a rough first quarter, Barnes found several opportunities to beat smaller defenders, something he often did last year but hasn’t done reliably this year. He had just two assists, but 27 points and 12 rebounds. Maybe focusing on a different role has opened up his game more, which was missing earlier in the season.

The defense is not good

Without a reliable, 25-minute-a-night rim protector, the Raptors’ defensive potential is limited to just OK. That hasn’t been the case this year, which is the biggest reason they’re in their current position.

Nurse recently made a major adjustment when the second unit was running into the zone in a defensive transition position rather than finding a man. It has helped them clean things up a bit.

Unfortunately, the Raptors just don’t make the opposition miss enough in the midcourt. They don’t have the one-on-one defenders they thought they had, which limits the utility of the switch.

Raptors defense, last seven games

Adversary ORtg vs Raps ORtg 22-23: Difference eFG% vs. Raps eFG% 22-23 Difference


113.2 (15)



53.7 (16)



110.5 (26)



52.9 (23)



114.2 (10)



52.1 (26)



113.2 (14)



55 (10)



108.8 (30)



51 (29)



111.4 (22)



52.5 (24)


(The Raptors played two games against the Hornets, the average of those two games was used to calculate the average difference, league rankings in parentheses)

Against the Falcons, Fred Van Vleet had one of his worst defensive games of the season, and he has been well below his standards for most of the season. Dejounte Murray harassed him for repeated short jumpers while Trae Young handled with his speed. The Raptors generally prefer VanVleet to protect the ball so he’s free to make smart plays in the paint, but against dynamic two-guard teams like Atlanta, that’s harder to pull off.

Defense should have been the strength of this team. It is not. The Raptors are never going to be consistent enough offensively to avoid that level of reliability.

Precious Achiuva is coming

Aside from Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, who missed a large portion of the first half with an ankle injury, was a bright spot for the Raptors. As the homestand continued, Achiuwa got stronger, finishing with three straight games in double figures, regaining his fluidity on both ends.

Achiuwa had a wildly chaotic run in Charlotte’s first game, including one of the most irresponsible attempts you’ll ever see. After that, Achiuwa came into his own, looking more like his second-half version of last year. He hit 9 3-of-4, but most importantly made powerful, uncontrollable moves in the paint.

Defensively, Achiuwa has as much upside as anyone other than OG Anunoby.

The starting five continues to be problematic, mostly defensively. If Achiuwa keeps up this pace, he could be starting soon.

OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. are quality starters, not game changers for this team

Despite Gary Trent Jr.’s last two games, he and Anunoby have helped stabilize the Raptors’ offense as their numbers rebound from deep. Trent has been at the center of heavy backup units that have been solid for the team, while Anunoby is back in ultra-reliable mode. Both have contributed heavily to multiple wins this year.

However, since the defense is still so bad, it’s important to recognize their flaws as well. Anunoby has almost no defense, but he’s still adventurous when he gets into the paint, the team’s biggest turnover risk. The defense cannot afford to pass live balls. Trent is a high-risk, high-reward quarterback. Anunoby less so, though he’s still at his best when he can take some chances.

The Raptors don’t have a rim protector that would really allow Anunoby and Trent to follow suit while still having a reasonable Plan B. Without that aggressiveness, Trent loses most of his defensive utility, while Anunoby loses quite a bit. Anunoby isn’t a fixture defensively by himself, while Trent isn’t offensively consistent or diverse enough to seriously change the Raptors’ ceiling.

It makes you think about the near future.

This team is not good enough

The Raptors are as healthy as they’ve been all year. They had six home games and were favored in five of them.

They ended up going 3-3 with a combined plus/minus of 16. They have come back doomed in all three losses in recent games, which account for a decent chunk of that positive differential.

The Raptors had to make up significant ground during this stretch. They didn’t. Masai Ujiri and the front office don’t have to force it, but they do have to explore the market as sellers over the next few weeks.

(Photo of Atlanta’s Trae Young driving between the Raptors’ Precious Achiuwa and Scottie Barnes in the second half Saturday: Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press via Associated Press)



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