Aside from the usual scuttlebutt and the handful of transactions that dot the landscape every so often (and I hope we’ve got that covered to everyone’s satisfaction here at RR), the dog days of summer can be a difficult time for an NBA writer to find something to, well, write about. Scheduled for a column this morning, I found myself lacking in inspiration for something novel.

So, in the interests of saving you another thousand words of me gushing about the team’s culture change and why Toronto is, in fact, the greatest basketball city on god’s green earth, I did what any self-respecting scribe would do: I passed the buck to the readership, putting out a call on Twitter for what you’d like to see me write about.

Luckily (and to your own credit – you guys are awesome), Twitter came through in spades. There were so many responses, in fact, that I figured it’d be better to simply answer them all, rather than pick one or two. Borne out of that: the first Raptors Republic Tweetbag.

It’s a practice I’ll likely continue through the summer months, so if you have any other burning questions you’d like me to address, hit me up @garretthinchey, ignore that ugly mug of mine on the profile pic (bonus: Blake still hasn’t given up on the Aaron Gray thing. He sent me a Gchat last week congratulating me on signing with the Pistons) and let me know.

Let’s get to the Tweets!

On paper, I’d certainly say it’s a step in the right direction. By all accounts, Johnson is a more than capable defender, and certainly a large enough body to give players like Johnson trouble (he’s listed at 6 foot 9 and just a shade under 250). Johnson isn’t the answer – nobody you’re going to be able to sign for $2.5 million per is – but he’s certainly capable of providing Landry Fields-esque D on bigger wings. The upshot to Fields, obviously, is that Johnson is a semblance of an offensive threat, which means that he’ll actually be able to stay on the court for long stretches of time. If Masai wasn’t going to get a “perfect” veteran option – someone of the Luol Deng/Trevor Ariza variety – then the next best thing is to get a cheap option with upside. Johnson is certainly that. Plus, he’ll team with Tyler Hansbrough to scare the sh*t out of opposing teams if things get nasty.

I think Ujiri is still holding out hope that Terrence Ross will eventually evolve into the wing stopper this team desperately needs, and with the team almost capped-out, it didn’t make sense to break the bank on a major replacement. Short-term, Johnson will certainly improve the team’s defensive capabilities in that area. Their outlook long-term, though, largely depends on Ross’ development (or whatever we can get for him, should he end up not being a part of the team’s plans in the end).

Per NBA.com/stats, In terms of net rating per 100 possessions, the top three five man units for the Raptors last year were:

Vasquez/DeRozan/Ross/Patterson/Valanciunas (13.9)

Lowry/DeRozan/Ross/Patterson/Valanciunas (7.6)

Lowry/DeRozan/Ross/Johnson/Valanciunas (3.3)

Interesting, hey? It’s tough to glean too much information from a simple stat like this – and admittedly, this is the kind of question that deserves a full column (written by someone smarter than me), but there are a few takeaways here. The first one relates to the first question – perhaps Ross isn’t so impotent at defending other teams’ wing options as the hivemind collectedly decided post-playoffs. The second is that this team thrives on floor spacing – simply replacing Johnson with Patterson leads to a dramatic increase in net rating, demonstrating the value of having a pick-and-pop big man that other teams actually have to chase out to the 3-point line.

Finally, though, don’t get too hung up on these numbers. That first unit up there is the one that usually ends up in against the other team’s benches, which is when the Raptors often found themselves stretching leads in the second quarter last season. Unquestionably, the team’s starting five is its most effective five-man unit until proven otherwise – that positive net rating against opposing starters at the beginning of games and in crunch time is far more impressive than the gaudy V/D/R/P/V number you see up there, which has a much smaller sample size.

TL:DR – from a purely analytical standpoint, the team’s top seven in pretty much any order is pretty damn good.

It’s tough to say at this point – don’t forget that this core only had 18 games short of a full season last year. That said, giving the group a chance to gel over a full season will undoubtedly pay dividends. It’s going to be exciting to see if the coaching staff comes up with some new wrinkles in their floor spacing offence – I’m particularly excited to see how Lou Williams fits as another offensive option that should give the Raps a damn exciting three-guard rotation to manoeuvre around DeRozan.

Will we improve? Undoubtedly. However, the East is going to get better, too – Boston and Cleveland will certainly be better, Brooklyn gets Brook Lopez back, Atlanta gets Al Horford back, and Chicago gets Derrick Rose back – and we haven’t even gotten to Carmelo or the big three. Don’t fool yourselves into thinking that a net zero in record this year is a disappointment. Assuming other teams are a bit luckier with injuries, a 48 win season this year is far more impressive than what the Raptors managed last year.

Which one? Bruno? DeAndre Daniels? I think my favourite thing about the Raptors’ draft haul this year (and I’m throwing Bebe in there as well) is that we literally have no idea what to expect. There is no sure thing here, no hole they’re expected to plug. The slate is clean, both in terms of expectations and potential. My advice this year regarding the Brazilians is to strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride – it’s going to be a bumpy one, but you might as well enjoy the scenery while we’re on the way. I mean, who knows what the hell the destination is?

On a practical note, neither of the Brazilians will be expected to contribute immediately based on the way the lineup is shaking out, which should be great for their development, assuming they have the right attitude. Best case, Bruno and Bebe kick ass. Worst case, they need more time to develop, and the team is built to allow that right now, which is great.

Vegas summer league tips off today, too, so keep your eyes peeled for that if you just can’t wait to see these guys on the court (like me). Raptors play today, tomorrow, and Monday, with two more games TBD.

Ooh, that’s a tough one. Fields and Hayes aren’t going to live up to their contracts, no matter how well they play, so any move involving either one of them is going to involve an asset leaving with them – a future pick, or someone like DeAndre Daniels. We had to give up a second-round pick to get rid of Novak’s deal, so use that as your benchmark. With both contracts expiring next year, I’d imagine the chances of this happening are minimal at this point, lest Ujiri have a much larger move lined up (and you never know). Potential landing spots would be teams looking to get to the cap floor like Philly or the Bucks, or teams that have proven themselves willing to take on these contracts in return for future assets, like the Celtics. If this happens, I’d expect it would be closer to the deadline. Again, though, Masai gonna Masai. You never know.

Re: Patterson starting – count me as one of the people who hopes he’ll grow into the role, but Amir Johnson is a chronically underrated player who has tons of value on both ends of the floor. I’d imagine that it won’t be happening this season, but as the five-man numbers from above show, his floor spacing is immensely valuable. He’d do well to try and pick up the little things from Amir if he wanted to eventually usurp his starting spot – though, as Blake pointed out in his column recently, I’d imagine their time will be close to a 50/50 split this season.

I’m interested to see how the Lou/Vasquez pairing will operate this season. Both players are very similar offensively in that they love spot-ups/floaters/operating in the paint generally. It’ll largely depend on how Lou Williams shot comes along as he continues to recover from ACL surgery – though if Vasquez is clearly the better shooting option, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him operating off the ball in this lineup. Remember, though, this isn’t hockey – one of the more exciting things about this team this year is how many different combinations the Raptors can throw together with their guards. Expect to see Vasquez/Lowry, Williams/DeRozan, and even Williams/Lowry against shorter or offensively deficient guard pairings pretty regularly this season, rather than a straight starters/bench swap.

Jonas has been working with Hakeem Olajuwon, gearing up for the World Cup with the Lithuanian National Team, and teaching the Raptors Dance Pak a few moves. Ross has been working out in LA with Amir and DeMar and taking Instagram pictures of dogs on a treadmill.

See my above answer, and the link to Blake’s column (he, admittedly, is a much better resource for this than me). The short answer: as much as they prove they can handle, with no real expectation for either of them to play major minutes until they’ve shown they’re ready. To management’s credit, the team’s depth is solid enough to accommodate that.

Don’t get your hopes up, everyone. Admittedly, it’s two years away, and the prospect is absolutely tantalizing, but until this team proves it’s a true championship contender, landing a player like KD in the prime of his career is a long shot, Vasquez or no Vasquez. That said, the way this team is structured will give them the opportunity to not only be a player in 2016 free agency, but next summer, too –  and when it comes to less major markets like Toronto, being prepared for the possibility is all you can do. I mean, nobody thought Houston would end up with Howard and Harden except for Daryl Morey, and look what happened.

The fact that we’re even having that conversation is damn awesome, though, and all credit to Masai and his management team for putting together a team of young, moveable assets on reasonable deals. Things are good in Raptorland, people. Like Will said, remember to savour the moment.

(Also, who needs him? We’ve already got the Brazilian KD right here, right?)

  • LuckyMystery

    Ross may become a great wing defender, the issue however is his size. Even if he becomes great, at 6’6 and under 200lbs, a SF with height and skill will still be able to take advantage. Ross is ideally a SG, and would be a great defender against 2’s, but against bigger 3’s he will always be outmatched.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ross eventually gets traded for a true SF. I like him, but he is a really good trade chip to have if the right player becomes available.

    • jjdynomite

      The irony is that Ross would make a better long-term SG than the incumbent SG, as his 161 3PTM at .395% (in his 2nd season) which ranks 19th in the league, is far far better than DeRozan’s 64 3PTM at .305% (in his 5th season) which ranks 127th in the league.

      Instead of advocating for a trade, what we should be doing is hoping that DeMar continues to bulk up from his 216 pound frame so HE can be the SF who bulls his way into the lane to shoot FTs. I’m not sure why more people don’t bring this up; DeMar is also supposedly even an inch taller (6’7 to 6’6 for Ross).

      Of course, we’d still need a James Johnson since DeMar’s D is suspect. Sigh.

      • LuckyMystery

        A lot will depend on how Ross develops over the next 2 seasons. With Demar able to opt out and presumably a very big payday coming his way, and Ross becoming an RFA at the same time. It will be interesting to see who the Raps believe has more value. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they decide to keep Ross going forward and move Derozan in 2 years. But again it all depends on what type of player Ross becomes. And to a lesser extent how Caboclo develops.

      • JunkYardDog

        People don’t bring that up because DeMar’s defense is terrible , one of the worst one on one defenders I have ever seen as a starting swingman. Everyone just assumes DeRozan is a lost cause on defense , even if he bulks up , it doesn’t change the fact that he cannot stay in front of his man and contest a shot.

        I really don’t understand why he is so bad on defense , it is a skill that can be taught and he has the size for it , I’ve heard rumors that he has one leg shorter than the other but I don’t know , I’m pretty sure he will never be an average defender even. Watching his defense on Joe Johnson was just torture , I could have done a better job on him.

        DeRozan/Ross starting lineup is fine for now , but if they want to win in the playoffs they will have to trade one of them , they are both SGs and neither of them can guard SFs.

        • ZQ

          One leg shorter than the other lol!
          Where do you even come up with these bogus claims
          It would affect how we moved on offence, his leaping ability, his footwork etc. > which is all nearing the elite of the NBA
          He’s not an amazing defender but let’s not make things up…

      • noname

        Demar is a hard worker. he’ll continue to improve but I like the idea of switching ross and Demar positions.

    • Heyjoe

      His size really isn’t that big of an issue. Look at Matt Barnes, one of the best SF defenders in the NBA. 6’7 225lbs. Kawhi Leonard 6’7 230.

      He just needs to be stronger, which doesn’t necessarily mean heavier (although added weight + strength is clearly the ideal and often building muscle implies adding weight).

      Sure he struggled against JJ, but that is just one small forward out of many. Ross can guard point guards, which is invaluable when it comes to defensive rotations on picks as well as assignment flexibility.

      However, he will always struggle against SF’s like Durant, but that’s mostly because Durant is the size of a PF and isn’t a problem that is exclusive to Ross when it comes to the SF position.

      • LuckyMystery

        I hear what you’re saying, but 1 inch and 35 pounds is a big difference. Plus barnes just looks like he had more length

      • jlongs

        Height really isn’t as important as wingspan and leaping ability when it comes to defense. While Leonard is listed at 6’7″ his wingspan is a massive 7’3″ allowing him to guard taller guys. From what I can tell, both TRoss and DD have average to below average wingspans for their height, thus not allowing them to guard taller guys.

        The other factor would be being able to stay infront of your man (lateral quickness), and basketball IQ (which guys like Matt Barnes and Shane Battier have).

        Lastly, there’s size and strength, which Joe Johnson clearly showed us we lacked to defend him.

        So when you get a player who has the wingspan, strength, leaping ability, lateral quickness, and IQ, you get your elite defender. If that guy can score too, hall of famer.

  • LuckyMystery

    It’s pretty funny you say that about Caboclo. I just said to my friend last night, the best part about the last week has been the fact that nobody is even talking about Caboclo anymore. He is a true wildcard for this roster. If he isn’t ready, he can play in the D league, take his time to develop. No harm no foul. But if this kid can surprise the world and actually show the ability to play in the NBA this year, and contribute some meaningful minutes. This team will be damn fun to watch. Not saying I expect him to steal the starting SF from Ross, but if he can play 10 minutes a night, use his length to defend and hit a few shots, I would take that this year. Just wait how crazy the ACC goes when he dunks for the first time

  • Rubuntech

    Great idea and read Garrett. Kind of like Doug Smith questions without the condescending commentary,

    • Garrett Hinchey

      Halfway through writing this, I stopped and thought: “oh my God. I’ve become Doug Smith.”

      Basically what I’m saying is that I really appreciate you saying that!

  • dunkmycat7

    Lebron goes back home so is Andrew Wiggins now going to be available ?…trade for TRoss Bruno and some future pick ?
    Masai ?

    • jjdynomite

      Why would Cleveland want to trade Wiggins for young Ross and futures? They’re more likely going to trade Wiggins for Love and go all-in.

      Which I like, because that means Wiggins will be going to frickin’ Minnesota, and he will then start counting the days when he himself becomes a LeBron-lite FA and returns to his hometown and country.

      And by then, Masai will already have Durant on the team. :-)

      • LuckyMystery

        I said the same thing. Even in his letter he doesn’t mention Wiggins or Bennett. I just see foreshadowing. Lebron is very careful with everything he does and says. The omission of their names in his letter to me says he has already approved a Kevin Love trade.

      • dunkmycat7

        if I ever want your opinion I will ask for it and that would never.

    • asifyouknow

      Good idea but it would probably take DD or JV plus…

      • CJT

        look who’s back. You’ve been pretty quiet since being wrong about EVERYTHING.

    • Heyjoe

      Willing to bet Cleveland hangs on to Wiggins. I personally think a Dion Waiters trade is more probable. Or maybe package both.

      Either way Tristan T, Benett and Wiggins are all going to be playing for a team that has a chance to get a ring. I think that’s pretty awesome for Canada :).

  • Connor

    not a fan of the 2Pat nickname. My friends and i coined “Pat Pat’ like magnitude on community…. PAT PAT!

    • Plus

      yeh thats lame.. but I do like that character. lol

  • Orange

    so watching Caboclo play at 6 today LOL

  • asifyouknow

    RANDON THOUGHTS: How Toronto can get their favorite son!

    Now that the Cavs got the KING they need a few more experience players around him, they probably will get Love but they need a big man and a back-up PG, Toronto got both at a reasonable price and rumors are Wiggins is on the hook being dangled in front of some teams.

    Vasquez, JV and Maybe Ross, Amir plus some picks or a combo of those (Vaz and JV are the position players they need) might get Toronto’s favorite son Wiggins.

    Cavs coach is an American but has coached in Europe most of his career, he has a great offensive mind, JV and Vaz have played under that type of game, they will feel right at home with this guy.

    A note to the asif haters…This is not a prediction just a RANDOM THOUGHT. :)

    • Nathan

      So according to this, your RANDOM THOUGHTS are officially as stupid as your full THOUGHTS. Our 4 players (3 starters) for an unproven Wiggins. Did you watch basketball last year? Our team doesn’t need that kind of overhaul. Your computer keyboard is smarter than you and it must be wondering why it wastes it’s time writing anything you type.

      • asifyouknow

        Gee is not like I killed anybody, I thought you guys wanted your homeboy at any cost ! lol…The guy is a closest to a “can’t miss player” since Anthony Davis…..Do you fallow basketball??
        You must be another one of those fantasy players who gets confused. lol…We are talking about the NBA not PlayStation four…
        My goodness….

        • noname

          take off jv and amir…trade ross + 2016 first rounder that we got from bargs + Hansbrough + Vaz for Wiggins and then sign Jameer Nelson to a 2 year 6 mil deal. That would be good.

    • Taattzz

      Why u still here

  • Jensan

    Wiggins, Bennett and a first round pick for Love and Martin, starting lineup for Cleveland as follows:
    Irving, Waiters, Martin, Lebron and Varajao.

    Minnesota:
    Rubio , Wiggins,Brewer, Bennett, Peckovic

    • Johnny Moondog

      You think Cleveland should trade for Love and then not start him?

  • wigginsbackneedsfvslebron

    still not satisfied with the roster… kinda doubtful bout our bigs … im guessing masai will have a big trade again on december. im really wishing bout wiggins though

  • Microaggressive

    http://allball.blogs.nba.com/2014/07/10/demar-derozan-dribbles-through-walmart/

    DEMAR DEROZAN DRIBBLES THROUGH WALMART

    ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — NBA players traditionally use their summer break to work on parts of their game that can use improving. Last summer we saw Detroit big man Andre Drummond and Nate Robinson employ unique strategies to improve their dribbling, as both practiced dribbling through crowded airports.

    Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan appears to have borrowed this tact, and in this Instagram video he tries to perfect his handle as he dribbles up and down the aisles at his local Walmart.

  • CharlieB

    When discussing 5-man lineups, it seems worthwhile to note the minutes each played since they differ so much.
    The three lineups listed played 66, 128 and 717 minutes together respectively, which looks like the minimum number of minutes played for this analysis is 65.

    If this minutes minimum were dropped to 50, we would have:
    Lowry/Vasquez/Ross/Johnson,Valanciunas (+20.6, 57 minutes played)

    Lowry/DeRozan/Gay/Hansbrough/Valanciunas (+19.8, 58 minutes played)

    Lowry/Vasquez/DeRozan/Johnson/Valanciunas (+19.2, 63 minutes played)

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