Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 114-104 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. To receive 10 things, the latest Raptors Over Everything podcast and full postgame reaction in your inbox the morning after every game, subscribe to the Yahoo Sports Raptors Reaction newsletter.
One — Hopeless: The Raptors trailed by double-digits for all but four minutes of this game. The Hornets raced out to a 19-2 lead at the start and never looked back. The Raptors weren't interested in making a comeback, or presenting any form of resistance, because they simply laid down. There was no cohesion on defense whatsoever, and with three starers out, the Raptors were laughably short on offensive talent. The only value of watching this game was to see the brilliance of rookie guard LaMelo Ball, who is so gifted that even blowouts become interesting.
Two — Unprepared: The Hornets made 11 threes in the first quarter alone, before finishing with 21 on the night. The Raptors starting five was utterly unprepared to defend, and although it was red-hot shooting on the part of the Hornets, it was also negligence from the Raptors. The main principles of the Raptors' defense are to pressure the ball, plug the lane, and to frenetically fly out to the perimeter. They achieved none of that. The Hornets got out in transition, they got to all the spots they wanted, and it took just two or three simple passes to get to an open shot. Regardless of who is missing from the lineup, there's no excuse for a professional basketball team to be that disorganized defensively.
Three — Disrupted: Norman Powell had been performing so far beyond his usual role that the Raptors now can't even compete without an efficient 30-point effort from him. Powell really struggled to get his looks, he overcomplicated his reads, forced it when the defense was set versus pulling back when it wasn't, and it just wasn't the decisive effort that we have come to expect from him. Granted, the circumstances were always working against him, and the Hornets deserve credit for how they guarded, but these are the also the games that show you the limitations of Powell's game. When he becomes the focus of the defense, Powell struggles to create and tends to run into trouble. His isn't creative enough to unlock a set defense and when he forces things, it rarely goes his way. That's the next level of development for Powell, and these games without Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are valuable learning experiences for him.
Four — Discouraged: Kyle Lowry has put on a brave face on behalf of his team, but even he cracked under pressure. With the Raptors down 20 in the third quarter and another comeback push stopped well short, Lowry could be seen yelling at Terence Davis for his poor decision making. Lowry tried his best to carry the team, but all refused to follow. Lowry diligently set up his teammates for open threes and occasional runout opportunities, but they couldn't capitalize. The only positive is that Lowry sat for the fourth quarter and that Nick Nurse didn't extend his minutes in hopes of a Hail Mary. Clearly, this was not their night.
Five — Limited: It was disappointing to see Aron Baynes regress to his early-season struggles. Baynes was not alone in making mistakes, but his performance to start the game was shocking. He missed a layup, travelled in the post, bricked an open three, and on the defensive end he refused to contest out to the three-point line and he let Gordon Hayward blow right past him on a straight line-drive. Baynes had been performing better of late, settling into his role as a physical defender who is functional in the right matchup, but today he was back to being Bismack Biyombo without the athleticism.
Six — Jumpy: Chris Boucher typically picks up for Baynes when he struggles, but Boucher was just as culpable. Boucher bit on every pump fake, and it was all too easy to score on him. Boucher needs to value having defensive position and containing rather than trying to always make the stop. It's like the equivalent of a ballhog but on defense, where Boucher is going for blocks rather than what the team necessarily needs from possession to possession. Of course, he has shown plenty of times this season that he is capable of playing great team defense for extended stretches, which is why it is disappointing to see bad habits reappear.
Seven — Debut: With Baynes and Boucher struggling, Henry Ellenson got an extended look. Ellenson was a standout performer with the 905 this year in the G-League bubble and his ability to shoot as a frontcourt player earned him a 10-day look with the Raptors. It wasn't his best showing tonight, as Ellenson missed his first two threes that were both wide open, to the point where he nearly passed up his third attempt despite being more open than the first two, and his indecision led him to miss that shot too. Ellenson's defensive limitations are simply too much to overcome for him to find a spot in the rotation, so similar to Matt Thomas, he must make the most of these scant chances to play and ensure that he capitalizes on open looks. A shooter without confidence is a liability.
Eight — Aggressive: DeAndre' Bembry might have been the best Raptor outside of Lowry. Bembry made several impressive driving layups, and was generally active defensively. There's the occasional moment where he gambles, but on the whole he is just a very solid two-way contributor. Bembry is being pressed into playing above his capacity, and play creation is not his skillset, but he's making the most of it. He should be one of the first subs off the bench once everyone is healthy, if that were ever to be possible.
Nine — Smooth: There's something to like with Paul Watson Jr., who finished with 12 points. Watson has good size for a wing, and his jumper is solid. But what's really intriguing is his athleticism, which he showcased in the fourth quarter on a driving two-handed jam through traffic. If he manages to connect his outside shooting with the ability to finish inside, then he will become a candidate to crack the rotation. He's competing with Thomas and Terence Davis for that role, and the one thing Watson has over both players is his defense. He's not great, but his effort is there and so too is his length.
Ten — Context: As much as the Raptors are in a difficult spot due to he pandemic, it needs to be said that it isn't unique. Every team in the league, save for the Jazz and the Lakers, have faced something similar to what the Raptors are going through with five players and three starters missing. This is part of the reason why this entire season feels cheap, because we haven't really seen the best from most of the teams in the NBA. Circumstances have made it so that half the league is straddling .500, and through no real fault of their own, it will end up being a lost year for most teams.
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