There’s always a ton to sort through with Media Day, and so while we’ll get to more fun, bigger-picture stuff throughout the week, we need to get some minor updates out of the way. You’ll probably like some, dislike others, and roll your eyes in skepticism for most. We’ll have more on a lot of this stuff in the coming weeks.
Starting lineup – Lowry, DeRozan, ___, Ibaka, Valanciunas
Head coach Dwane Casey has never been much for giving things away until he has to, but he more or less confirmed four of his five starters throughout his portion of media availability. Not only did he mention Jonas Valanciunas along with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Serge Ibaka at one point, but he specifically talked about the fit with those four when it comes to the competition for the starting small forward spot.
This will probably be the most contentious issue for fans in camp, because there are good arguments to be made in favor of C.J. Miles and Norman Powell. We’ll get into the specifics this week, but there’s an interesting spacing-defense trade-off at play, as well as a serious ripple effect on the style of play the second unit might employ. Again, there are good cases for both that we’ll get into, and there’s no “wrong” answer if the rotation is well-balanced over 48 minutes, but the differing perspectives are sure to come into contrast.
“Who fits? What guy fits with that group?” Casey responded when asked who is fifth starter is. “Norm Powell did an excellent job for us last year, especially in the playoffs. His thing is to be more consistent. He’s probably our best attack player off the dribble, getting to the rim with force. His challenge is to make sure he can make decisions once he does see those roadblocks and see the seven-footers coming towards him, and be ready to make a play off the dribble, because he has it and that’s what he’s been working on all summer, is making the next pass on time on target…That position is gonna have to be a guy that fits with DeMar, Kyle, Serge, JV in that position. I’ve talked to both CJ and Norm, it could be either one.”
For their part, neither Miles nor Powell seem particularly dead-set on being in one role or another. Miles has started 13 or more games in each of his last 11 seasons and come off the bench for at least 20 in 10 of those years, so he’s comfortable either way. Powell, meanwhile, might be best served by finding one role and getting some certainty, but he’s also made a name for himself over two years by being able to thrive without a set role or routine. They’ll both be fine.
“Honestly, I don’t,” Powell said when asked if he cares. “I’ve talked to coach Casey about it and it honestly doesn’t matter to me. I have the same exact approach. I mean, everybody wants to start in the NBA, like that’s obvious. Everybody wants to be an NBA starter. But for me, I’ve always been about the team first.”
“It never was a thing for me honestly,” Miles echoed. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s exciting. You want to start but the second you figure out that your role is what it is and it doesn’t make you a lesser part of the team because of that, then it shouldn’t even be about that. It’s about winning and if me being a starter at the three or a starter at the four, being off the bench at the three or the four, as long as that’s what makes our team go, then that’s what I’m going to do. That’s my approach.”
Casey also mentioned Delon Wright and even Bruno Caboclo as potential candidates to see minutes at the three (it sounded like he included them in with potential starters but listening back, I’m unsure), so it seems everything is on the table early on. It wouldn’t be the worst approach to make that position fluid based on matchups, but Casey’s always prefered a set rotation where possible, and players will give credence to the value of routine.
As for Valanciunas, it only makes sense to start him, even if Ibaka as an individual is best case at center and the Raptors are likely to close games that way. The regular season isn’t about maximizing every minute, but maximizing for 48 over 82, and through that lens, starting Valanciunas is logical – the team is very deep at center and thin at the forward spots, and playing Ibaka at the five out of the gate would mean a couple of useful centers buried and a couple of unproven forwards playing in big roles. It’ll be a different conversation come playoff time.
OG Anunoby and Malcolm Miller updates
There were conflicting answers around injured rookie OG Anunoby. As everyone knows by now, Anunoby underwent surgery on his knee before the draft, and at the last update I received (at Summer League in July), he was able to run, cut, do box jumps, and shoot set shots. That was encouraging! The Raptors aren’t much for putting firm timelines on things, so it didn’t seem likely that we’d get more of an update than “maybe November, maybe December.”
And a report from Bruce Arthur on Sunday suggested that Anunoby could be back in November (it’s unclear whether that meant “back” to the Raptors or “back” to the point of a Raptors 905 rehab assignment). And Anunoby himself made it seem like he’s getting close.
The team’s stance is that there is no official update at this time, but it’ll be something to watch for as camp rolls along.
As for Malcolm Miller, the two-way player who had ankle surgery in July, he’s out of a walking boot and has progressed to participating in some drills, doing a lot of shooting, and doing a lot of trash-talking when he beats his teammates in shooting competitions. Miller doesn’t have a firm timeline, either, and the team wants to stay cautious, but Miller’s closing in on five-on-five work, which is great news.
There were some pretty good quotes about how the team will change the offense this year, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. DeMar DeRozan probably put it best:
"If you get a little haircut, you look a little different, but you're still you." – DeRozan on changing the team's style
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) September 25, 2017
The lip-service is the kind of stuff you need to say and maybe want to hear here. Passing more, and with more zip and purpose. More unique ways to generate threes. Using attention the stars draw not only to pass in reaction, put pass in manipulation of a defense. I will understand if fans of this team for a few years would like to wait and see some proof on the court before they get too excited, though.
“You have to adapt or you die. That’s the thing. You have to adapt to the league, the way the game is changing,” Casey explained. “The tricky thing with that is you’re not going to make some players into something they’re not. DeMar DeRozan is not going to become Klay Thompson overnight. The tricky thing is to make sure we use the strengths of our players, as well as make adjustments, make changes with what you’re doing, while making sure you take advantage of the strengths of your players, how much they’ve improved over the summer, how much their games can adapt to what you’re trying to do.”
So, yeah, count those passes on SportVu in the preseason games, track how much they use their motion offense, see how thick Nick Nurse’s binder on the bench is, and so on. It should be fun to see how much things look different, and how long it lasts.
Player activism and advocacy
- Everyone has improved their shot, everyone is in the best shape of their careers, and is primed for a breakout season.
- Similarly, the Raptors feel overlooked once again and will use it for #ProveEm
- Delon Wright and Norman Powell spent a lot of time in L.A. working out with Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, and DeMar DeRozan. Wright, by the way, looks noticeably bigger through the chest and shoulders.
- If there was a running theme talking to the young guys who have been here working out for a few weeks, it’s that everyone has been pretty impressed with how good Fred VanVleet has looked. Kyle Lowry even conceded that VanVleet is better right now than Lowry was at the same point in his career.
- The five-man camp battle for two spots should be a lot of fun. K.J. McDaniels, Alfonzo McKinnie, Kennedy Meeks, Kyle Wiltjer, and Andy Rautins all bring some different things to the table, and given the multiple holes and varying skillsets here, it could very well be a straight meritocracy for the final cuts. Shooting would seem to be at a premium (Rautins/Wiltjer), but so to are defense and positional versatility (McKinnie/McDaniels). Meeks might be in tough by nature of roster composition, but he’s apparently transitioning to the four/five combo spot well and is down to the lowest playing weight of his career (263).