The 2019-20 NBA season is officially underway with the Toronto Raptors taking down the New Orleans Pelicans, 130-122, in an entertaining game to start the season. Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 34 points apiece, while Brandon Ingram was the high-point man for the Pelicans with 22.
Here are five big takeaways from the first game of the NBA season.
Pascal Siakam earning that money
Fresh off signing a four-year, $130 million max extension, Pascal Siakam wasted no time invalidating the Raptors' confidence in him by posting a monster line of 34 points, 18 rebounds and 5 assists on Tuesday.
Siakam got the line. He scored in transition and in that in-between area he's so good at utilizing, with plenty of his one-foot-spinner-off-glass-long-armed awkwardly athletic finishes to go around. Siakam finished a huge and-one off the dribble with just over three minutes to play to trim New Orleans' lead to one, then scored off a roll to the hoop on the next possession to put Toronto up one.
The question with Siakam is whether he can be a true No. 1 player/scorer after the departure of Kawhi Leonard, particularly at the end of games. So far, so good, and you noticed Siakam's absence in money time after he fouled out with under a minute to play. Moving forward, Siakam won't be sneaking up on anyone anymore. He'll be the focus of the defense's attention every night. After Game 1, at least, he certainly looks up for the challenge.
Fred VanVleet apparently hasn't skipped a beat since he was dropping buckets on the Warriors in the Finals. VanVleet scored a career-high 34 points on 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, including a dagger triple from the corner that put the Raptors up five with just over a minute to play in overtime.
VanVleet started in the backcourt alongside Kyle Lowry, which obviously raises some concerns in terms of size. But they both played huge on Tuesday, with Lowry chipping in 22 points, six assists and five boards.
Scoring not the problem for New Orleans
New Orleans gave a clear picture of how it plans to play this season -- pedal to the metal with a ton of 3-pointers. The Pelicans shot 45 threes on Tuesday, making 19 of them for a 42-percent clip, which they'll obviously take every night. They scored 122 points, albeit with an extra five minutes of overtime. They had 30 assists and moved the ball great. It just wasn't enough against the Raptors, who fired up 40 threes of their own at a 35-percent clip.
And that's the issue after Game 1 for the Pelicans: The defense, which on paper looks like it should be super versatile and potentially elite (perhaps this will have to wait until Zion comes back), just couldn't stop the Raptors, who were beating their men off the dribble and getting pretty much any shot they wanted all night long.
Alvin Gentry's rotations were, um, strange
You've heard the saying that your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness? Perhaps there's something to that with the Pelicans, who are crazy deep with 12 players playing at least 11 minutes on Tuesday night. Starters sat out super long stretches as New Orleans' bench played well.
Down the stretch of the fourth quarter, in a one-possession game, Gentry went with three bench players in Josh Hart, Frank Jackson and Jahill Okafor for big minutes. Meanwhile, Lonzo Ball, Derrick Favors and JJ Redick sat out for what felt like three hours, only to be thrown back in the game in overtime.
It's hard to totally blame Gentry for these weird rotations to start the season. He has a ton of guys who can play and he has to sort through different variations, and again, the bench was playing well and has New Orleans in control of the game, if tenuously, for stretches late in the fourth quarter.
Still, this is something the Pels are going to need to figure out so guys can have at least some idea of their role and playing time. Depth is great, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing. When Zion comes back, that's going to be 13 players Gentry is going to have to try to get real playing time while not sitting guys for super long stretches. Not an easy job.
Let Lonzo Ball
Lonzo was really good in the first half on Tuesday, posting five points, five assists and three boards while just generally controlling the pace and getting everyone involved. He came out of the gate in the second half with his second catch-and-shoot three of the game, which is obviously an encouraging sign for a guy who has changed his shooting form over the summer and whose one career struggle has been shooting.
But then Lonzo just kind of disappeared to the end of the bench, exiting the game with 4:46 to play in the third quarter and sitting out the rest of regulation. By the time he got back in the game to start overtime, he was literally hopping up and down drilling the ball up the court trying to get his blood flowing again. This is not optimal. Lonzo looked good and when he had the ball and control of the offense, New Orleans was getting good shots more often than not. Gentry has to find more regular minutes for Ball.