10 things from Raptors-Bulls: OG Anunoby shows flashes of potential

William Lou
NBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 105-91 loss to the Chicago Bulls at the Scotiabank Arena on Sunday night.

One — Complete throwaway: The Raptors rested every significant rotation player as a result of unfortunate scheduling that saw the Raptors suit up just two nights after leaving Japan. With the entire team jet-lagged, there was little sense in pressing any vital players into preseason action. The likes of Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet, among others, got some shots up to maintain their rhythm and fitness, but even by preseason standards this game was unnecessary.

Two — Short runway: That leaves the Raptors with only one game — Friday against the Nets — to get everything in order. Kyle Lowry has yet to suit up for anything, but having finally ironed out his lucrative extension, odds are that he’ll get his feet wet before the home opener. Gasol could also use an extended run after his limited participation throughout training camp. The good thing is that VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby are raring to go, so it’s not as if the Raptors are collectively shorthanded, but there will definitely be some rust early on. Next week’s practices will be vital.

Three — Encouraging showing: OG Anunoby was the lone bright spot in an otherwise lopsided contest. With none of the main playmakers in action, Anunoby was pressed into creating his own offense and the results were eye-opening. Anunoby flashed an expanded skillset that featured twisty drives and clever work in the post, and he repeatedly created space using his powerful spin move. Anunoby also made smart decisions when he encountered double teams, including a nifty no-look dish. Under ordinary circumstances, Anunoby won’t be asked to be more than the fourth option, but this game is a nice reminder of why there is so much optimism about his future.

Four — Showing versatility: Matt Thomas is strictly a shooter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s one-dimensional. Thomas shows good shot selection in that he’s not always itching to fire, and he mixes in the odd counter to keep the defense honest. He’s comfortable driving past the closeout and kissing in a bank shot off the glass, or jumping off one foot for a leaning push shot, and Thomas also seems to be a willing passer. His playing time will ultimately be determined by how much he improves on defense, but Nick Nurse should feel comfortable in giving Thomas short spurts with a second unit that is otherwise inept on offense.

Five — Getting old: Although his contract is still unguaranteed, Chris Boucher should feel relatively secure about his spot. The Raptors need a fourth big, and there’s no competition, so there’s no need for Boucher to aggressively stuff the boxscore by chasing blocks or dominating the ball. There’s a difference between putting up numbers in garbage time, versus making positive contributions towards a win. Boucher’s tunnel vision is shocking, and it needs to be hammered out if he’s expected to play in minutes that matter. There’s a lot of positives in his game, and he should stick to those instead of always forcing the issue.

Six — Keep working: Terence Davis II has created plenty of hype in his limited time as a Raptor, but more improvements are necessary before he cracks the rotation. He gets lost on defense, especially if his man is away from the ball, and he doesn’t always see the entire floor when he’s running the point. All of this is correctable and he should improve in time, but for now, Davis could probably use some reps in the G-League just to get up to improve his decision making. He’ll be back in the majors with just a few minor tweaks, so it’s nothing to be discouraged by.

Seven — Rudderless: Stanley Johnson has yet to find his footing with the Raptors, and it’s unclear what role he will serve once Nurse decides on his rotation. The main concern is that Johnson lacks confidence in his jumper. In each of the three preseason games to date, Johnson has had multiple opportunities to fire away from three, but he has turned down the majority of those looks in favor of jab stepping at his defender. This has only served to stall the offense, because Johnson just isn’t skilled enough as a scorer to consistently break down his defender in isolation. Even if he’s not a good shooter — he’s a career 29 percent shooter from deep — Johnson must still take the open looks just to keep the defense honest.

Eight — For old time’s sake: It’s not quite Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, but a double block is still worth seeing. Here’s Johnson and Devin Robinson combing for a rare highlight:

Nine — Rough around the edges: Dewan Hernandez boasts great size, agility, and soft hands for a 6-foot-10 big, which is good value for a 59th pick. However, one area of immediate concern is his strength. He lacks the physicality to make plays in the paint on both ends, and that should be the first area of development. At the moment, Hernandez isn’t strong enough with the ball to convert in traffic, nor is he able to hold down the defensive glass or change shots at the basket. Adding bulk without compromising Hernandez’s quickness will be a tricky balancing act.

Ten — Moot point: There’s an ongoing battle between Cameron Payne and Isaiah Taylor for the third point guard position, but there are no winners here. Taylor can’t shoot, and Payne makes too many bone-headed decisions to be an effective playmaker. The Raptors might be best served giving that spot to Pat McCaw in the interim until Davis gets enough seasoning with the 905.

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