Gameday: Raptors @ Pistons, Oct. 19

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If a preseason game occurs but nobody can actually see it, did it really occur?

Well, yeah, of course it did. But as someone whose job is to watch and cover the game, the fact that neither side is broadcasting when the Toronto Raptors visit the Detroit Pistons tonight is mildly concerning. It’s kind of an important one, as far as the preseason goes, because head coach Dwane Casey continues to suggest these last two exhibitions will be something “closer” to what their regular season rotation will look like. While Jared Sullinger and Terrence Ross may still be sidelined, Wednesday’s game could go a measure of distance in providing clarity in multiple areas, particularly the backup center position. As for the 15th roster spot, well, those players may have run out of time to make their case.

This should be a good tune-up, as the Pistons are closing out their preseason and should be in something resembling dress rehearsal mode. These two teams will see each other again in a week for the season opener.

The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on but is untelevised, so don’t rush to flip over after the Jays win Game 5 of the ALCS. Finding a stream could even be tough, as the game isn’t being broadcast on a Pistons’ station, either. Cross your fingers for League Pass to come through with a stadium feed, at least.

To help set the stage, I reached out to Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk, and he was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: I was excited about the Pistons last year and thought they were primed to make a bit of a jump in the Eastern Conference. They kind of did, I suppose, but my optimism has mostly just rolled over to this year, where I could see them fighting for home court in the first round. Am I a little ahead of myself here?

Dan Feldman: No, then maybe. I was leading the “Pistons as No. 4 seed” bandwagon (behind the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors) until Reggie Jackson got hurt. Now, I’m not nearly as confident. Not only will the team miss a key player for about a fifth of the season, the Pistons lose a chance to build on the reason I was most optimistic relative to the rest of the East — their cohesiveness. Still, I’m not sure who gets that fourth home-court seed in the East if not Detroit. There’s a big drop after Toronto, and nobody else was banging on the door.

Blake Murphy: For Detroit to take that next step, who’s improvement is most crucial: Stanley Johnson, Tobias Harris, or someone else?

Dan Feldman: Next step? Andre Drummond. If he continues to improve his defensive awareness, focus and effort, that’d go a long way. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope excepted, the Pistons’ defenders behind Drummond leave plenty to be desired. If Drummond can better cover for their slips, that’d make a big difference. The step after that? Johnson, who’s both very talented and very raw.

Blake Murphy: The signing of Jon Leuer made sense from a system perspective, but the price, coupled with what now appears to be a minutes crunch (forcing one of Harris or Marcus Morris off the four), it seems a little expensive. Your thoughts on that addition?

Dan Feldman: The Pistons wanted a taller stretch four for certain matchups, and Leuer fits the bill. He can even play some stretch five against certain opponents. He didn’t come cheap, but it’s always tough to judge who Detroit could’ve gotten instead. With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s deal expiring, it would have been difficult to carve out enough cap space to do better next summer. And that route would’ve also meant being weaker this year. Leuer makes the Pistons better, and it’s important to get players who make the team better. Sometimes, there’s too much emphasis on chasing value. Would you rather have someone who’s worth $9 million and making $10 million or someone worth $2 million making $1 million? Obviously, context matters, but I know how Stan Van Gundy generally feels.

Blake Murphy: I’m not a big Henry Ellenson fan, but with how far he slid in the draft, there’s some value there. Do you think he’ll factor in at all this season?

Dan Feldman: Probably not, barring injuries. The Pistons are deep with big men, and he’s not different enough from Leuer to bring a change of pace.

Blake Murphy: Do the Pistons have enough offensive juice to win games while Reggie Jackson’s sidelined?

Dan Feldman: I’m concerned about the starting lineup with Ish Smith. I’m concerned about the bench unit with Ray McCallum or Lorenzo Brown. Between the two, at least one is likely to produce points at a below-acceptable rate. Losing Jackson stings.

Raptors updates
The team is remaining cautious and noncommittal on the statuses of Jared Sullinger (foot) and Terrence Ross (knee). I’d be shocked if Ross played Wednesday, but Sullinger sounds like he’s a possibility. The team isn’t panicking either way.

As for the others, here’s a best pass,though it’s worth keeping in mind that Casey wants something closer to a regular-season rotation.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, Delon Wright (shoulder)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Bruno Caboclo, E.J. Singler, Terrence Ross (knee)
PF: Pascal Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Jarrod Uthoff, Jared Sullinger (foot)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

For reference, here’s how the minutes have shaken out so far:

Known commodities: Patterson 75 (18.8/game), Valanciunas 75 (18.8), Joseph 71 (17.8), Lowry 58 (19.3), DeRozan 55 (18.3), Carroll 52 (17.3)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 102 (20.4), Nogueira 77 (15.4), Poeltl 72 (14.4)
Competition 2: Powell 114 (22.8), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 114 (22.8), VanVleet 100 (20), Heslip 43 (14.3), Singler 41 (10.3), Uthoff 8 (8), Moreira 5 (5)
Other: Caboclo 64 (12.8), Wright 0

Pistons updates
The Pistons are in pretty good shape outside of the Reggie Jackson (knee) injury, though Tobias Harris and Aron Baynes both have broken noses they’re adjusting to. They’ll line up something like this, keeping in mind that Stan Van Gundy will use his wings and forwards pretty flexibly.

PG: Ish Smith, Ray McCallum, Lorenzo Brown, Trey Freeman
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Darrun Hilliard, Reggie Bullock
SF: Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Michael Gbinije
PF: Marcus Morris, Jon Leyer, Henry Ellenson
C: Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, Boban Marjanovic

The line
You’re not gonna believe this, but the line for a preseason game is off the board. Raptors by eight, Jays hammer Ryan Merritt, we at least get a bad stream to watch on.

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