Summer Tweetbag Volume 1: KD in TO, Making the pieces fit, and more

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, 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?)

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