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And that’s a wrap on what was statistically the best regular season in the history of the Toronto Raptors. Not bad for Year 25, especially considering what happened in Year 24.
What’s next? An undermanned, but pain in the butt group of Brooklyn Nets and then likely a Boston Celtics team that gives Toronto all kinds of problems. Maybe after that the mighty Milwaukee Bucks.
We’ll leave the Raptors-Nets talk for elsewhere and mop up everything left from that zany regular season here today, with a couple of thoughts on the Denver finale.
Kept hearing from smart basketball people that Paul Watson, the mid-January two-way signing, could play and we saw some of that in the last two games. He’s smooth, can shoot (Nick Nurse said they’ve been working on his mechanics and it’s gone a long way), get to the rim and guard a bit. It looks like the team might have yet another under-the-radar contributor on their hands. He’s not super young, but Atlanta might have made a mistake letting him go. It sounds like Toronto plans to take advantage of that.
“He’s pretty good. He can play,” Nurse said. “Talking about comprehending our defensive schemes, he’s done great; really good passer; worked on some of the mechanics of his shooting and he’s just eaten that all up and put in the extra work on that and it showed up here. He vaulted up and made shots. He’s got good size.
He can play. He’s gonna be part of our future from what I can see so far,” Nurse said.
That’s interesting because while some of the front office and scouting types knew about Watson from his runs alongside players like Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell in summer training with Rico Hines and through his work with Raptors 905, Nurse had said he really didn’t know anything about Watson and was looking forward to seeing more.
“Just being able to go out there and work with the time I’m getting as a confidence builder, it shows Coach Nick has a lot of trust in me and what I’ve been able to do in our shooting times and practice and things like that,” Watson said. “So it’s definitely a big confidence booster for me.”
The Raptors could definitely use some depth on the wing. OG Anunoby is the future at small forward (and will play some power forward too), but Powell only has one year left on his deal (two if he decides to pick up an $11.6 million player option in 2021-22), Fred VanVleet (a starting guard this year) is an unrestricted free agent after this season and he might be a full-time point guard if he is re-signed to a long-term deal and Kyle Lowry doesn’t return after next season.
The team does have some intriguing youngsters who can play on the wing in Terence Davis, Matt Thomas and Oshae Brissett and Stanley Johnson is signed for 2020-21 and finally showed flashes down the stretch, but Watson is a big bigger than most of those guys.
Speaking of Johnson, can Toronto’s player development factory do no wrong? He’s looked like a completely different player in Orlando. He was once a lottery pick. Toronto still thinks it can unlock something in Johnson and though he turns the ball over too much, he’s developing as a point-forward, which is interesting.
One more thing: It’s awesome that we’ve gotten to this point of looking forward to the NBA playoffs because there were no guarantees it would get this far when the bubble began.
1 — Paul Watson
2 — Stanley Johnson
3 — Norman Powell
Here are my final Three Star rankings from every game of the regular season: (3 points for first star, 2 for second, 1 for third):
Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam tied with 51 points apiece
Fred VanVleet 43
Serge Ibaka 30
Norman Powell 29
OG Anunoby 22
Marc Gasol 22
Terence Davis 11
Chris Boucher 12
Patrick McCaw 2
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 1
Matt Thomas 3
Paul Watson 3
Stanley Johnson 2
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020