OKC Thunder vs Raptors part deux serves up healthier rosters – preview

DECEMBER 29: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the OKC Thunder dribbles the ball as Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
DECEMBER 29: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the OKC Thunder dribbles the ball as Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the OKC Thunder dunks over during the Toronto Raptors (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /


It’s incredible Toronto still holds a home court seed considering their injury woes. Seven of their top eight players have each missed 10 or more games (OG Anunoby is the exception). The Warriors and Wizards are the only teams with more man games lost and the Blazers are virtually even with the Raptors losses. The one difference? All those clubs possess sub .500 records and none of them are currently playoff seeds.

Kyle Lowry is leading the league in minutes per game which isn’t ideal no matter how much of a bulldog he is.

It’s a testament to Nurse he’s found a way to navigate through these injuries but lately, the team hasn’t been quite as fortunate, losing three games by a cumulative four points (Thunder, Blazers, Spurs).

Gasol is probable to return this game which obviously presents some issues for the Thunder especially with Noel not expected back.

Although each of the returnees will likely be on minutes restrictions and could be rusty having all these bodies back is a plus for Toronto especially when OKC will need their reserves to match the intensity and production of the Raptors.

Defensive Intensity:

Toronto possesses the second-ranked defense in the association. While the team navigated the host of injuries it was their defense that stayed intact and allowed them to be competitive.

That feat is a bit surprising given Siakam is arguably their best defender and Gasol is a former DPoY.

The Raptors are adept at defending across all key areas ranking third in perimeter defense, second in paint scoring and hold opponents to the second lowest field goal percentage.

In theory, they should improve with the return of the top talents which could pose issues for OKC because what this says is virtually any Toronto player (starter or reserve) can step onto the court and play lockdown defense.

Offensive options with the return of injured players:

Although Siakam is still rusty his initial minutes versus the Spurs showcased why the Raptors offense improves by leaps and bounds with him in the mix. It’s not just that he can score inside or out, rather it’s the sheer versatility of his game. Spin moves, drives, mid-range shots, paint post ups, 3-point shots from anywhere on the arc (both in catch and shoot or in pull up scenarios). Siakam literally has every tool there is to offer.

Teams who’ve had the best success against him have gotten extremely physical (which led to his injury in Detroit) or sent numerous defenders. But, even that’s a risk since he’s also a very skilled playmaker who Nurse often uses to initiate the offense.

Factor in if Gasol returns it’s a whole new can of worms. Much like Chris Paul can create for anyone on the court Gasol has those chops from the center position. It’s rather telling the Raptors maintained their defensive prowess but slid offensively while Siakam, Powell and he were out.

Perimeter snipers back:

That Toronto still ranks sixth in 3-point efficiency speaks to the volume of efficient 3-point shooters there are on the squad.  Then consider these numbers:

A) 46.5 percent on 2.9 attempts

B) 39.9 percent on 4.9 attempts

C) 39.0 percent on 6.3 attempts

Those numbers belong to Matt Thomas (A), Norman Powell (B) and Pascal Siakam (C). That’s approximately 17.5 perimeter points per game the Raptors were missing in the lineup. And of course, the value is far-reaching beyond the arc because opponents have to protect for these shots which open the floor and paint up.

It’s not hard to understand why Toronto fell off their top five offensive rank given how much offense was sitting on the bench dressed in suits.

The best way to sum up what the Raptors have navigated since Game 7 of this season is an exercise where you remove like individuals from your team or as close to the equivalent talent as possible. So imagine the following:

  • Chris Paul and Nerlens Noel miss 10 games simultaneously
  • Imagine for a moment Mike Muscala is shooting 46.5 percent from deep and is playing  (I know – it’s a lot to ask) and is lost for 21 games.
  • Upon CP3/NN return, SGA is out for five in a row
  • Just as he returns, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder, and Danilo Gallinari are all simultaneously lost for 10 to 12 games.
  • Then three games ago SGA goes down again with no definitive return date.

The tough part is this isn’t a true gauge of the situation because Siakam and SGA are more alike in terms of their overall effect on their team. Matt Thomas doesn’t have an OKC equivalent because he’s a guard, young and shoots the best on this club.

The closest comparison is Adams-Gasol and Lowry-CP3 but you get the drift.  The Raptors have played virtually the entire season with typically two or more of the top seven players missing.

Ultimately, the Raptors team OKC will face today isn’t the same team they played in Toronto and Billy Donovan will need his crew dialed in for a full 48 especially defensively now that the Raptors options have increased.