Raptors 122, San Lorenzo 105 | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Reaction Podcast

Fred VanVleet had just stolen Norman Powell’s scrum.

While assembled media waiting on the Wichita State product to get interview-ready, lights and cameras focused on Powell one stall over. This has been somewhat of a common occurrence for Powell since his rookie breakout started in earnest last February. And his locker was the expected gathering place of post-game media, too, on a night when Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Sullinger, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, and Patrick Patterson all sat out. Powell earned the attention, putting on a one-man dunk contest against visiting San Lorenzo de Almagro, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting with four assists and three steals in just 24 minutes.

Yet as VanVleet threw on a camouflage sweater and tip-toed to reach for the phone charge atop his locker – “Short people problems,” he griped – reporters tried their best to subtly shift to their left without disrupting Powell’s time. VanVleet, however, had no qualms about taking the attention from his new friend and partner in grind, especially once Powell interrupted in kind.

“I think we built that early on in Summer League,” VanVleet began to say when asked about their on-court fit together. “With just our approach to the game, aggressive, attacking, being physical, trying to impose our will defensively. Obviously, I don’t jump quite as high as he does. That’d be nice to have.”

“Cuz I’m the man,” Powell interjected. “You know I get buckets.”

“Yeah, yeah,” VanVleet conceded with a bit of an eye-roll. “He does. But no, it’s fun to play out there with him. We complement each other very well, and tonight, obviously, we had to set the tone.”

The pair have developed a quick chemistry off the court, united by the giant chips on their shoulders, their relentless approach to practice, and their desire to soak up every ounce of knowledge around them. On this night, they argue over whose grudge against the world is more warranted and, on the opposite side, who is more “big time” as a result.

“I joke with him all the time, he’s Big Time, because he feels like an underdog and I didn’t even get drafted. I’m the undrafted guy,” VanVleet argues. “We’ve got the same approach and the same background. He’s a little more Hollywood than I am, but you know, we click.”

“Fred just tries to hide that he’s a more big-time player than me,” Powell responds, laughing. “So he tries to put the heat on me.”

But who grinds harder?

“Ohhh, I don’t know,” VanVleet said.

“That’s tough,” Powell adds. “Yeah, I got the UTG. Understand the grind.”

“See, I never knew what that stood for,” VanVleet retorts. “I let the people do the talking. I don’t make my own hashtags.”

The chemistry is translating on the court, as well, where VanVleet and Powell make up an aggressive two-way guard pairing that’s been tough on opposing teams. They’re playing primarily against bench units or, in this case, Argentine champions, but second units are their likely opponents if they find themselves getting NBA run together, anyway. It’s perhaps a necessary competition caveat for Powell, who’s also fighting for regular rotation minutes while solidifying himself as the leader of the back half of the Raptors’ roster, but it’s not as if each player hasn’t had substantial time against opposing starters, either (VanVleet was given the Chris Paul trial-by-fire, for example).

With Powell’s confidence returning to form after a few shakier outings to begin the preseason and VanVleet very clearly MegaManning moves he’s picking up from Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph in practice, the pair is getting better by the game, exactly the hope in camp. Powell and Delon Wright are fond of looking at themselves as a junior version of Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and Wright may have to accept a third member of their young-guard fraternity, any two of whom could hope to maintain the attitude, demeanor, and approach of the All-Star pairing. Consider it the guard rotation Freebird Rule, if they all wind up on the team together.

It sounds as if VanVleet has Powell’s vote for the 15th roster spot, for what it’s worth.

“Me and Fred clicked instantly,” Powell said at practice this week. “We’ve got a similar mindset, a similar mentality. Especially coming in as a rookie, you want to prove yourself. Especially him, going undrafted, working his way trying to get a spot. I was in the same position, even though I was drafted. I was still hungry and trying to make the team and trying to carve out a role and get minutes. He has that same mentality.

“I just love the way he plays. he’s aggressive, that never-back-down attitude. We clicked instantly on the court and we have a good relationship off the court, always talking, always hanging out, always joking around. So I’m really glad that we have him now, and hopefully he can make the team.”

That’s perhaps looking a step too far ahead for VanVleet, who still has to crack the roster to ensure his new friendship can continue without serious charges to a Presto pass. VanVleet did his best in what may be his final large-sample audition Friday, completely taking over the second half and scoring in an array of manners on his way to 31 points, five rebounds, and five assists. But while Dwane Casey acknowledged VanVleet’s strong outing, the coach was upset, in general, with the team’s defensive play.

“Our defense tonight was non-existent…We had no defensive focus tonight whatsoever, and that’s what I was looking for. So tonight, I didn’t see a lot. So everything’s still in flux,” Casey said. “Fred did a good job. He did a solid job. he ran the team pretty well. They blitzed him, he did a good job of finding people, attacking with his speed, took some hits. But again, 122 points, offense is not our issue. Defense is our issue, and they lit us up in every way.”

Those comments apply more to the backup center competition between Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl more than they do to VanVleet specifically, but it’s worth remembering that the point guard’s candidacy may hinge on the team’s comfort – or lack thereof – with rolling with just two point guards, not just his performance. Jarrod Uthoff finally say time, Brady Heslip continued shooting well, and E.J. Singler continues to play quiet, mostly mistake-free basketball. Most notably, Drew Crawford got the start at small forward, a more obvious position of need once Wright is healthy, and continued to acquit himself well as a potential three-and-D bench piece.

“I think so. Honestly, I think I deserve it,” Crawford said. “It’s something I’ve worked for for a long time. I understand my role on this team, I understand what the things my coaches need me to do, and my teammates need me to do. I think I’ve been able to show what I can do, and hopefully it turns out well.”

The six players vying for the 15th roster spot may be out of meaningful preseason playing time to state their cases now, left to prove whatever’s left to prove in practice or in garbage time. VanVleet would seem to have the inside edge based on Wright’s injury, overall performance, and a genuine sense since draft night that the Raptors are high on him. He’s a player who approaches things “the Raptors way,” in the words of assistant coach Patrick Mutombo, and he and Powell are great examples of the type of mature, hungry youth the Raptors seem to value at the end of the roster.

If VanVleet and Powell do wind up sharing a space in the Raptors’ locker-room this season, it’s easy to see their quickly-formed bond growing. There will be plenty more friendly arguments, but VanVleet’s ready to at least concede on one front and unite their grinds.

“I’mma join on the #UTG bandwagon.”


  • Mike$

    Great article.

    Vanvleets slowly won me over the during the preseason. Having 4 pg will kind of suck though.

    On the Bebe / Poeltl front it looks like Bebe has the inside lane right now to start the season in rotation minutes. Poeltl looks good, but hasn’t done enough to win bebe’s spot yet. Crazy that he’s already putting so much pressure on him. Bebe might not keep his spot for long and at that point he’s basically just a piece to salary match should a trade come up.

    • Patrick

      poetl is a terrible shooter for pro-level, man that guy needs to practice, what a failure, saw him miss 2 ft’s really badly

      • Mike$

        Yeah he needs to work on his shot for sure (like every player, especially young players). Calling him a failure seems pretty harsh for missing 2 attempts though. He shot 69% from the free throw line which is actually pretty good for a big. Especially at a pro level dominated by bigs that shoot so much worse

        • Patrick

          oh expected his ft % would be a lot lower than 69%. would have thot 45% based on the technique i saw

      • steve fisher

        Poeltl is a great shooter with the highest shooting % on the team ! Last night he was 6/9 ! He has soft hands is usually in the right spot and gets his shot off quickly without sacrificing accuracy ! Because of his great positioning he ALTERS 6 to 8 shots a game, boxes out well leading to a good rebounding rate, all of which makes him a much more complete player, thanks to great NCAA coaching which Bebe never hade ! Poetlt last year was the PAC 12 conference Player of The Year and the BEST centre ( 5 ) in the NCAA while averaging 17 Pts and 9 Rebs a game ! The coaches say he has a very high basketball IQ, is a gym rat, a very hard worker, is very smart and shows great leadership ! At 7’1″” and 230 lbs he will fill out with age putting on more weight and with his regular weight work more strength will come !

        • Patrick

          Hey Steve thanks for the comment here

        • Dunkenstein

          I agree. And he is quick for a seven footer. Maybe he can even develop a three point shot as Bosh has.

          He really needs to get stronger to battle with NBA bigs down low.

      • Henry Swagson

        Shooter usually implies jumpshot (dumb comment if you meant FG% b/c he has the highest one on the team). He made one vs. cle and missed one from the ft line area. He made his only jumpshot against san lorenzo. He along with all should (& probably will) improve.

        My only knock against him (for the time being) is his physicality and even then he’s much better than Bebe (that guy avoids like the plague), and JP’s strength should get better as he matures.

    • Lans

      I’m most impressed by Poeltl. He always seem to be in the right place. It will be interesting to see how he progresses this year. As to Bebe, I don’t see him a part of this team long term, so I’d play him a lot early in the season, after all he’s a good passer, and a trade just might help him harness all his skills.
      Go Raptors Go

      • Mike$

        Yeah even if Poeltl is better than Bebe to start the season i’d prefer to see Bebe get the opportunity. Poeltl getting the chance to be the focal point of the offence in the dleague while playing 35 minutes a game is probably better for development than 8 minutes of being a screen setter in the NBA. Give Poeltl a month or few months to really get used to the NBA grind and work on things he wouldn’t be given the chance to do in the NBA. That would give Bebe a chance to make his trade value above the zero it is now. I also don’t see bebe as a long term piece and could see him being tossed into a deal to make salaries work.

    • Dunkenstein

      We may not see much of either Bebe or Poeltl barring injury. I suspect Casey will go primarily with a three big rotation of JV, Sullinger and PP.

      • Mike$

        Yeah i’ve made larger posts about that as well. If JV and sully start, jv can get the early hook for PP and that makes sully the 5. Than JV comes in for Sully to get time in with the second unit. What this does is give 3 very different looks. JV and sully will be weak defensively but be monsters on the boards. Sully and PP will provide great spacing and passing with the ability to switch everything on D at the cost of rim protection. JV and PP is a very well rounded combo that provides a bit of everything. Doing this gives each player 32 minutes a game where Sully spends half his minutes at the 5 (he was a much better 5 than 4 in Boston anyway). Its a lot what the lakers did with bynum, gasol, and lamar.

        While this seems great I kind of think its a few to many minutes for guys that aren’t used to that many. Thats where I can see 6 -12 minutes going to a back up center throughout the regular season saving this 3 man rotation for big games. Carroll will probably also slide to the 4 for a few minutes a game as well.

        • Bargsgone

          you are making me sad, just thinking about #17 holding things down without the Bizness YIKES!! LORD help us

          • Mike$

            Biz just isn’t worth the money. He’s going to have a terrible year in Orlando relative to what they are paying him

            • Dunkenstein

              No. not worth 17 big ones….. but he’d look great as a back up big in a Raps uniform.

  • wtf 8838

    VanVleet looks to be one tier below NBA, unfortunately. He only seems to be able to get his game off against NBA backups, D-Leaguers, etc… and that’s only preseason.

    I don’t see the big deal about keeping a roster spot open for a 3rd or 4th string PG. It’s one of the easiest positions to fill in the NBA. Picking up a backup veteran PG mid-season via trade or waivers happens all the time. There’s always a DJ Augustin, Jameer Nelson or Isiah Canaan type available for cheap,

    • Mike$

      There is no point in keeping a roster spot open. We could always waive vanvleet later to pick up a better player off waivers or make room for a trade. Basically zero reason to leave a roster spot open.

      • BlakeMurphy

        Exactly, Mike$.

        And wtf8838,, VanVleet struggled against Chris Paul, maybe the best PG of this generation. Not sure there’s evidence he can “only” play against D-Leaguers, and even if he can “only” play against NBA backups…that’d be his role, anyway. He’s also a rookie, so that’s expected.

        They’re going to keep SOMEONE as the 15th man. None of the options are going to be able to “get his game off” against the NBA’s elite, otherwise they wouldn’t be trying out for a 15th roster spot.

        • wtf 8838

          The thing is, you usually never see full bench lineups in regular season NBA games. Basically, VanVleet needs to be facing a bench PG and a bench rim protector at the same time; but even bench PGs are getting better these days.

          Heslip is probably the best of a really bad bunch in terms of being able to do what he does best against real NBA players, e.g. … make 3’s. Of course, that’s about ALL he can do, but at least he could be used situationally to provide a legitimate long-range scoring threat which might open up the floor for drivers (e.g. CoJo, Lowry, DD, Norm).

          • BlakeMurphy

            Yeah, that’s the better argument to make, IMo, if you don’t prefer VanVleet – it’s not that he’s not good (and can’t get better, obviously), but that Heslip’s one best skill is easily the best skill any tryout guy possesses.

          • Lans

            Vv is ready to play right now in my opinion, however, our need for 3-pt shooting is paramount, and so I’d go with Heslip. That having been said, I could envision that any choice between these two, could be made to work successfully. I really love Vv’s game. He plays the way I want us to play, aggressively, fearlessly and smartly. This is a tough decision, but in the playoffs when scoring is difficult, Heslip could be a difference maker, hence my preference.
            Go Raptors Go

            • Noelle

              This is for 15th man, who there’s a 99% chance will never get out of street clothes come playoffs. You can only dress 12 per game, so who would you have Heslip bumping out of the 12 come playoff time?

              • Bargsgone

                he slip he shoot he score

            • Bargsgone

              he slip does what we need and can help us win games with .02 on the clock, them other cats can’t do that, and so he slip should be the 15th man come hell or high water. he’s our guy and we should hit the ground running with he slip, he shoots, he score. “he” can be our Linsanity trust me the eye test tells me so. I hope this GM and Coach don’t let he slip through their hands like the Bizness

              • Bargsgone

                he slip looks better than GREASY V

    • Dunkenstein

      How good do you think Dellavadova looked at his first camp?… Not nearly as good as VV has so far.

      • wtf 8838

        Delly sucks, man. If Lebron doesn’t come back to Cleveland, 50-50 he’s already out of the league by now. He of the career PER = 10. Talk about a player who is massively overrated due to playoff exposure and riding Lebron’s coat-tails.

        • Dunkenstein

          He was good enough to be a full time rotation player with the world champion Cavs and is not out of the he league now that he’s been traded to Milwaukee.

          VV reminds me of a more talented version of Dellavadova as they are about the same size and both have a bulldog approach to the game. VV is much smoother and smarter and has more overall talent.

          • Noelle

            what looks like a very generous 6′ is about the same as 6’4″? Without speed or athleticism on his side, little Freddie gonna have a very hard time ever being more than 3rd string in the NBA

  • Patrick

    bruno’s pissed off demeanor on court very good, good focus. van vleet works pretty hard to score. ej singler looks way better than his brother, his brother looks like a wuss compared to him. ej has bigger muscles, looks tougher, kyle singler has a ugly receding hairline, ej fuller head of hair

    • Noelle

      I hope that “like” is a sarcastic one, Blake. Brotherly hairlines?

      • BlakeMurphy

        It was an accident. I’d imagine most of the up or down votes I give are…careless on the phone.

        • Noelle

          lol, gotcha

    • Dunkenstein

      Bruno is pissed off because he has been passed by a trio of rookies.

  • GoingBig

    “We had no defensive focus tonight whatsoever”

    I think that defence is going to be one of the major keys for the 15th guy.
    He’s going to have to contribute defensively in a strong way.

    The role of Biyombo on the bench unit was to tie together the defence while the shooters shot.

    I think that Drew Crawford is closer to that than VanVleet.

    • Bargsgone

      NAH! he slip

      • Saleem Rainman

        Stop bringing nash up in even the same sentence as heslip. It’s disrespectful to one of the greatest pgs of all time.

        • Noelle

          Bargsgone is short for TalkShitToShitDisturbPersona

          • Bargsgone

            there you go P00KA

        • Bargsgone

          sorry, i forgot we are waiting on BRUNO the KEVIN DURANT guy.

        • Bargsgone

          Yeah that’s true, if Mark Cuban only knew

  • leftovercrack

    Poeltl a “failure,” VanFleet a scrub who can only against d-leaguers – all before either has played an NBA game – where the hell do these people come from?

    • Dunkenstein

      Your crystal ball is ” cracked.”

      • Noelle

        your sarcasm detection meter is broken beyond repair…
        edit: actually it’s even beyond sarcasm. he’s referring to others’ comments, followed by “where the hell….” 🙂

        • Dunkenstein

          Busted… kaput. My apologies to you leftovercrack.

  • justsayin

    When was the last time the 15th guy on the roster played in an NBA game anyway? Someone’s gonna make the team but only to play in the D league. Even if it’s VanVleet as the #3 PG he’s not getting any court time with Lowry and Joseph ahead of him. Even if one of those guys gets injured there’s no guarantee that he’ll play with DeRozan and even Powell likely to be options that Casey might throw out there first.

    VanVleet imo is too good to sit on the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised if he and his agent push to get cut and use this audition to get decent guaranteed money from a team that he could get some PT on.

  • Robert Archibald

    Is Axel Toupane on the way?

    • BlakeMurphy

      They hold his D-League rights but he’s gonna have some big Euro offers. In his court, really.

      • n8

        Did he not get a 2 year deal with Denver? Or was it non guaranteed?

        • BlakeMurphy

          The 2nd year was fully non-guaranteed. Basically, when Denver signed him last year, they tacked on a free team option for flexibility. Pretty standard for late-season 10-day type of guys.

    • dwnin2

      Is Axel a 2/3 or more of a 3?

  • n8

    *Insert Delon Wright sad frog meme here*

  • R.D. Vaughan

    All told I’ve been impressed with what the Raptors’ staff is doing in the acquisition and development of talent. Assuming the franchise is successful it will mean they’ll be hard pressed to obtain high draft choices so finding diamond in the rough talent will be essential.
    Even finding one player a year is going against the odds. I personally think they’re going to loose Crawford but at least Uthoff will be a fixture on the 905 so we’ll really get a fair chance to see if he has anything to offer. Let along provide competition to Bruno.
    As for Poeltl, it can’t be said enough that big men mature later, so for right now I’m sure not judging and will appreciate watching how he comes along in the 905 unless BeBe forces an unexpected opportunity. I feel the Raptors will choose a centre by committee approach to the backup centre minutes or pick up a veteran (at minimum) rather than giving Poeltl those minutes though. I foresee the Raptors deciding to bring Poeltl along slowly rather than a “trial by fire” approach if for say BeBe gets injured for a sustained period or screws the pooch. Likely so that they let his confidence build slowly and his knowledge of their system sink in.

  • distorsun

    Poetl or Sabonis: would love to see a series of articles a la Delon White vs Bobby Portis.

    • Noelle

      I would hope the writers have a shitload more to talk about the raptors than a series of articles centred on our rookie versus your preference.

      • distorsun

        When a team does well, that’s exactly the sort of things they write about.