RR Mailbag: Casey’s schemes, Valanciunas’s usage, playoff seeding, Toronto fan mentality

It’s time to empty out the mailbag.

Playoff seeding does still matter, but it’s more of a worry for the second round, should Toronto get that far. As far as first-round opponents go, the Raptors should be favored over any 5-8 seed. That’s not a guarantee (everything in the playoffs comes down to match-ups) but the Raptors should decidedly hold an advantage over any of the lower-seed teams.

Miami is scary because they have Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside, but there’s very little depth to speak of on that Heat squad and the Raptors are well-stocked in the second unit. Plus, I’m not betting on Wade to be healthy. He’s battled nagging old-man injuries all season. Still, if ever there were an opponent to avoid, it’s Miami.

The Hornets will be tricky simply because the Raptors always struggle against them, but again, I’m not sure if Gerald Henderson can continue to play like Michael Jordan every time he faces Toronto. Without that, the Hornets are rather punchless on the wing and with a slightly less dominant Al Jefferson, I’d like the Raptors to win in six games.

The Celtics are really well-coached and suddenly dangerous at the point with Isaiah Thomas. IT2 brings a credible scoring threat and would be a nightmare match-up for Lowry, who has struggled against quick point guards this season. But while the Celtics are a disciplined group with Brad Stevens at the helm, I question their talent. They don’t have a credible rim-protector and is a team led by Isaiah Thomas and a few role players enough to win a round? Color me a skeptic.

The Pacers are a scary proposition. They went 7-2 in February and have played really well since George Hill returned from injury to steady the point. They’ve treadled water all season and in just two weeks, Paul George will return from injury. Luckily, the Pacers are too far back of 6th place and will settle in at either 7th or 8th. That puts them out of range for the Raptors, as it looks like Cleveland will slide into 2nd any day now.

Finally, the Bucks and Wizards would be legitimate concerns as a 4-5 match-up, but the Raptors match-up really well with Washington (who are struggling, big time) and the Bucks have no playoff experience and very little shooting (unless Khris Middleton continues to stay hot).

That being said, based on the way they’re playing right now, the Raptors wouldn’t be a sure bet over any of the aforementioned teams. But I’m more inclined to trust the past 100 games than I am of the last 20.

It’s best to look at these things probabilistically. Masai Ujiri will probably reconsider things if Dwane Casey flames out in the first round, but even then, I would peg the odds of Casey getting the pink slip at no more than 25 percent. My feeling is that Ujiri isn’t necessarily thrilled by the prospect of Casey, but the optics of firing (arguably) their best coach in franchise history after a 50-win season would be tricky.

So in short, Ujiri would probably mull it over, before giving Casey one last chance at solving the playoff puzzle.

Iguodala is an interesting proposition. The Warriors will be in the luxury tax next season if they re-sign Draymond Green and shedding the final two years of Iguodala’s contract ($11.7 million, $11.3 million) would help massage a swollen cap sheet. With Iguodala coming off the bench and a younger substitute in Harrison Barnes, Iguodala is probably available.

That being said, Iguodala’s decline is a worry. At the age of 30, Iguodala isn’t as quick as he once was and his per-minute production is down across the board. However, he remains a clever defender, an occasionally reliable spot-up shooter and he can distribute — all skills the Raptors could use.

Ultimately, if the Raptors completely strike out in free agency, picking up Iguodala’s contract isn’t a bad proposition. But I’d prefer a younger alternative. The final year of Iguodala’s deal could easily turn into dead weight.

Tom Sterner would be a great dad. He’d be the kind of dad that would take you out to play catch and buy you ice cream (but don’t tell mom!).

But I wouldn’t trade anyone for Papa Lou, who is the most hard-working and selfless man I know. He’s understanding, affable, supportive, loyal and a true role model. Today is his 50th birthday. Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.

Raptors definitely need to land their own D-League team. Bruno Caboclo is averaging less than 10 minutes per game with the Mad Ants. It’s ridiculous.

Fans won’t ever forget either player, but I think of Matt Bonner as a Spur. Meanwhile, poor Quincy Acy is wasting away on terrible teams. Think about it: that dude has only ever played for the shitty 2012-13 Raptors, the dysfunctional Kings and the soul-sucking black hole that is the Knicks. Get that kid to a real team. He deserves it.

Yes and no.

No, in the sense that the Raptors will need Jonas Valanciunas on the floor for 30 solid minutes a night to advance to the second round. Valanciunas is the Raptors’ best rebounder by far and he’s a good source of interior scoring.

However, offensively, I really cant foresee a scenario in which the Raptors scrap their entire offense to cater around Valanciunas in the post. And not to diss Valanciunas, but he’s a bit one-dimensional. With more time to scout and gameplan, Valanciunas will likely face more double-teams and fool fewer defenders with his pump fake. So it’s tricky. He might just need to play a DeAndre Jordan type of role.

I don’t know about you, but this update from Ryan Wolstat has me all kinds of worried. This team goes nowhere without Lowry playing like an All-NBA guard, so the Raptors should give him as much time as he needs to get fully healthy for the post-season.

What, scoring 35 points on 50 percent shooting with 10 trips to the line, along with nine rebounds and five assists? Probably not. But I’m not expecting the horribly selfish brick laying machine of the last two weeks to continue, either. Ultimately, DeRozan’s game will never be all that efficient, but I figure he’ll get back to around his career-average True-Shooting Percentage of 52.1 percent once he’s fully healthy (mentally and physically) following the groin tear.

I think Casey is a decent coach. He’s a bit lacking in terms of offensive creativity and he sure loves his veteran players, but he’s done a lot for this team and quite frankly, most fans don’t appreciate what he’s accomplished.

However, his system seems completely at odds with Valanciunas’s strengths and that’s a problem. Then again, with the NBA trending towards a 3-and-key style, Valanciunas would be a tricky fit in most schemes.

Hassan Whiteside is just the latest example. As a general principle, taking a flyer on a springy, 7-footer who can play pick-and-roll and block shots is a worthwhile gamble. JaVale McGee might be best known for being a Shaqtin’ A Fool staple, but he deserves a job in the NBA. It’s no wonder why he’s reportedly drawing interest from a number of playoff contenders. McGee represents a cheap gamble that could pay dividends.

But the Raptors can’t get McGee. Masai Ujiri signing McGee for a second time would be like Bill Clinton calling up Monica Lewinsky to see what’s good.

From: Moderate Observer

  1. What’s with Casey and his 9 man rotations, how healthy can the eam be for the playoffs when so few guys take on all the minutes.
  2. What is missing from this team to be a contender and how do they get there?
  3. Should the raps double down on DD after next season or do they need another franchise guy to be a contender?

1. Nine-man rotations are pretty standard. It doesn’t help that the Raptors have five totally dead spots on the roster, but a nine-man rotation is fine. The health concerns for Lowry and DeRozan have more to do with their workload and outsized roles on this team.

2. This question deserves a full post, but this mailbag is already running way long. I think they need another dynamic wing player who can create his own shot and defend his position. A tangible upgrade at power forward would be nice, too.

3. In an ideal world, DeRozan would be a third option on a contending team, so yeah, they should probably find a new franchise guy. I’m a big fan of DeRozan’s hard-working attitude and he’s come a long way, but it’s becoming harder and harder to build anything substantial around a high-volume low-efficiency type player. But I’m not sure if the Raptors will necessarily need to choose between DeRozan or a new franchise player. There should be enough room to accommodate both with the cap going up.

From: Louvens Remy

Seriously, give me 3 good reasons why Lebron shouldn’t win the MvP again?

James Harden, Stephen Curry and injuries.

From: Adam Creelman

Did other teams figure us out, did we just hit a cold spell, or something else?

There’s no one explanation for the Raptors’ slippage over the past two months, which is a bit frustrating.

A few things can be tied to teams figuring players out. For example, defenses have really clamped down one of the Raptors’ pet plays, where they run a screen-and-roll on one side, before quickly resetting to the weakside for another attack on that side. Now, teams really trap hard on the ball-handler and send an extra man to cover the outlet.

But the team is also noticeably less energized and are more willing to take plays off. Take Lowry. When was the last time he took a charge? He led the league in charges taken last season. It’s weird.

Ultimately, I think Blake framed it best yesterday. It was tough to explain why the Raptors were as successful as they were. So when it stopped working, it’s equally as puzzling.

From: CoachFTW

Will JV leave Toronto based on being neglected consistently?

The Raptors hold all the power with Valanciunas, who will hopefully get an extension this summer. It can certainly be argued that Valanciunas merits more touches, but there’s no great injustice here. He’s 22. He’s coming along quite nicely. His role only figures to expand as his game does. He’s never expressed any ill-will towards the franchise. He’ll be here to stay.

From: Mountio

What would you consider the most convincing sign that the Raps have turned the corner and are back “on track”, whether statistic, play out of a certain player or otherwise?

A few things.

First, DeRozan needs to come around. He needs to get back to being a dynamic slasher, an occasional creator out of the pick-and-roll and toeing the line 7-9 times per game.

Second, when the Raptors settle on a firm starting five. Last year, the Raptors found a lineup that worked and stuck with it. This year, due to injuries and Ross’s unsightly regression, Casey has struggled to solidify his rotation.

Lastly, when Lowry is back to an All-NBA type guard. That includes returning to form defensively (he used to be a plus defender), while picking his spots on offense and returning to above-average on 3-pointers.

From: Ckh26

We have been remarkably healthy for two full seasons. Where do we rate on Man games lost to injury in the NBA ?

I couldn’t track down numbers for this season, but the Raptors only missed 68 games due to injury in total last season, the lowest total in the league. This season, by this obscure metric that combines games missed and player productivity, the Raptors ranked 7th in terms of impact of games missed through Feb. 16. Put two-and-two together and someone should really give Alex McKechnie a well-deserved raise.

From: Blech

Why are Toronto fans of any sport so irrational?

What fanbase is rational? There is no such thing. I agree that Toronto sports fans are too willing to fall in love, only to be furious at the fallout, but that’s probably a product of being starved for a winning franchise. This city hasn’t won anything in over two decades and an entire generation of fans know nothing but frustration and disappointment.

And yet, we stay loyal.

That gets overlooked too often. Yeah, Raptors fans are extremely petty (look back at yesterday’s quick react; DeRozan got 35-9-5 and people were still killing him in the comments) but we’re always here, always passionate and we always care. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

As always, if you have a question, send it my way to @william_lou or to [email protected] My apologies if this thing is littered with spelling errors. Cheers.

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