The Charlotte Hornets make their way into Scotiabank Arena for their first matchup against the Toronto Raptors tonight. The Hornets (26-21) were hammered in their last game 113-91 against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night. The Raptors (22-22) dropped back to the .500 level with a 114-105 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Hornets Rocked by Hawks
The Hornets were an offensive shipwreck against the Hawks. They couldn’t get anything going against an Atlanta Hawks team with the league’s second-worst defense. Unbelievably, Charlotte went 4-of-36 shooting from beyond the arc, on their home floor against Atlanta. Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball each finished the game with 19 points for Charlotte, which missed its first 19 3pt attempts shooting an abysmal 11.1% from deep. Ball and Terry Rozier were a combined 0 for 14 from long distance as Charlotte had its three-game win streak snapped. Do not sleep on Charlotte though. The Hornets likely didn’t lose any sleep after Sunday’s performance as they are still ranked as the second-best offense (114.1 PPG) in the NBA, and they still have the fourth-best three-point shooting in the league at 36.7%.
Raptors Humbled by Portland
Toronto has now lost three of their last four games. They were held to less than 100 points in two of the losses. The Raptors fell short of a comeback against the Blazers, as they were outplayed all game except towards the end. Pascal Siakam scored 28 points and Fred VanVleet had 19 for the Raptors, who were down an unbelievable 34 points in the first half before cutting the gap to four, 105-101, on a 3 from VanVleet with 1:24 remaining. Portland responded with two triples to put the nail in the coffin.
Toronto Too Loose On Defense
For all the talk about seemingly switching on defense because of size and talent, Toronto has taken a step back this season when it comes to guarding their basket. Opponents have averaged 50.8 percent shooting against them in their last three games. The Raptors, if they don’t tighten up on D, could cost them big against LaMelo Ball and company tonight. Toronto cannot go blow-for-blow with this Hornets team.
Yes, the Hornets couldn’t buy a basket against the Hawks on Sunday, but that game was obviously an anomaly for what is still the best 3-point shooting team in the league. They make it rain from long-distance and if LaMelo Ball is loose and dishing it out, like Portland, this game could be over quickly for Toronto. Granted, Charlotte will see significantly more defensive pressure against the Raptors tonight but if the Raptors do have one serious weakness, it’s on the perimeter. Toronto is getting lit up from long distance this season with opponents averaging 37 percent shooting at Scotiabank Arena.
For all intents and purposes, the Raptors are 9th in the Eastern Conference standings, a position most fans and analysts predicted they would be around, give or take a spot. What’s been frustrating, has been the lack of commitment on the defensive end, something the Raptors have been respected for the better part of the last decade. It has nothing to do with having a bunch of new players on the team. Playing good defense is an attitude and that attitude has simply disappeared, even for some vets on the team like O.G. Anunoby.
O.G., Oh No
Full stop, I’ve never been a big fan of Anunoby but I always gave him praise for his work on the defensive end. I never thought of him as an “elite” defender, but he definitely held his own and in some games even changed the flow of the game in a positive way for his Raptors. Nick Nurse was so confident in Anunoby’s defensive prowess that before the start of the season he went on the record saying “O.G. Anunoby will be defending against the best night in, night out.” In Nurse’s defense, Anunoby has always been known as a solid defender.
In Toronto’s last three games against Dallas, Washington, and Portland, Anunoby didn’t guard Luka Doncic, Bradley Beal, or Scott McCullom. Perhaps Nurse felt Anunoby needed some responsibility taken off his shoulders on the defensive end so he could have more energy to burn on the offensive end. If that’s the case, the experiment has been a catastrophic failure. Anunoby scored 19pts against Dallas and then 12 and 11pts against Washington and Portland while guarding their third or fourth-best players at that.
So if O.G. Anunoby isn’t reliable on offense and now he’s proven to be unreliable on defense, the question begs, what is he still doing in a Raptors uniform? How is he not being mentioned in trade talks? In my opinion, this has to do with Masai Ujiri and Nick Nure’s ego getting in the way. If O.G. is traded, their label as a club that develops talent from within is going to take a serious hit because O.G. Anunoby was one of the first to be praised coming out of Toronto’s farm system.
The problem is, the more Ujiri and Nurse put their heads in the sand, the more value Anunoby’s stock drops. If I’m here writing this about Anunoby, I can tell you with a lot of assurance, that NBA scouts, employed to evaluate players are thinking the same thing. It’s really telling that a .500 club with no chance of winning the title this year is not fielding calls about the availability of O.G. Anunoby. Perhaps the word is out already and his stock has dropped that dramatically. Before the season, there were many trade scenarios involving Anunoby, in which he could go help a championship-calibre team with his defense. Something tells me that isn’t the case by a long mile anymore.
It’s time Raptors fans alike and the Toronto Raptors management take a real long look in the mirror, bite the bullet and send O.G. Anunoby packing. There are players in the league that have gotten to the NBA based on their athleticism and potential and Anunoby was clearly one of them. Those traits get you in the door but reaching that potential is the difference between being a star in the league or just another player. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating it; O.G. Anunoby doesn’t have the mental fortitude to be a star in the NBA and I would go on to say that once traded away, O.G. Anunoby will not be in the league much longer after that.
I say this because O.G. Anunoby has been babied in Toronto by the organization as a whole and the media. If you pay attention to Toronto Raptors broadcasts, there are segments and commercials where, believe it or not, they still label O.G. Anunoby as, a great up-and-coming 2-way player. 5 years in and we’re still calling O.G. Anunoby a great “future” player. At one point during the season, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but now it’s comical at this point.
If Anunoby was in New York or in L.A., he’d be committed to the nearest mental hospital because the media would be all over him. But not here in Toronto and that is why journalists like myself are on the rise because the Canadian media is simply not telling you the true, full story. The Canadian media coverage of the Raptors is negligent at best. O.G. Anunoby’s time with the Raptors is hopefully ending soon, if not by the trade deadline then hopefully in the offseason because his development has been nothing but a disappointment.