It’s finally (almost) over. Both the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards mercifully close out a much-too-long exhibition slate on Friday. After nearly a month of training camp, the Raptors need only to stay (or get) healthy in the final preseason contest ahead of Wednesday’s regular season opener. The Wizards probably have a similar goal, so don’t expect either side to go all-out, even with a “real” meeting on tap for the Wizards’ home opener on Nov. 2.
The game tips off at 7 p.m. on but is untelevised in Canada. Luckily, finding a stream shouldn’t be too tough, as CSN is broadcasting the game on the Washington side, LeaguePass will almost surely have the feed, and, worst case, the Pistons broadcast their game online the other day.
Blake Murphy: Are the Raptors and Wizards rivals? I didn’t think so, but I’ve seen Wizards fans on twitter making “the Raptors lost 4-0 to Randy Wittman” jokes all offseason, which…yawn. Is there some animosity here I’m not grasping?
Kyle Weidie: Rivals? Not quite yet. I think at least three playoff meetings are required before ‘rivalry’ comes up for consideration — and even then, such is often predicated on the outcome. For example, the Wizards and Cavaliers met in the playoffs for three straight years (2006-2008), and given the various parameters surrounding everything (LeBron, Gilbert Arenas, Jay-Z, Soulja Boy, etc.), it seemed like a rivalry (definitely to me) … but Cleveland won each series. So there’s that.
As far as the Wiz-Raps are concerned, it was definitely fun sweeping you guys — and if Toronto considers Paul Pierce a “rival” (you should!), then sure — but I’d say nothing much exists at the moment aside from the over-played quips usually emitted from the @BulletsForever Twitter account. In another sense, I’ve always been fond of my friends from The North and am also willing to partake in some light ribbing over that sweep. For some of us Wizards folk, it’s all we have.
Blake Murphy: Let’s dial up the animosity, then: Who’s better in 2016-17, John Wall or Kyle Lowry?
Kyle Weidie: John Wall! Need I write more?
Blah, blah … I’m biased and all but I will still claim that Wall is the NBA’s best pass-first point guard after Chris Paul. Because also: Rajon Rondo is terrible on offense and he’s a dick.
But Wall — he showed up last season a bit out of shape and that, with a variety of other fun factors (Randy #WittmanFace, Kris Humphries starting at ‘stretch 4’, etc.) torpedoed the beginning of 2015-16 and ultimately, the whole damn thing. There’s a lot riding on Wall and the lack of respect — real and perceived — that he gets around the league. And I think he realizes that as much as he wants to create slights out of thin air to motivate him, you don’t get respect unless you earn it with wins.
Coming off a summertime knee surgery or so, most around D.C. expected Wall to miss the entire preseason and to possibly not be ready for the regular season. But he ended up playing in Washington’s third preseason game and has looked pretty good over the four total he’s played. Let’s check back in when the game start counting.
Blake Murphy: If the Wizards are going to bounce back to being a competitive team in the East, which individual player’s progress is going to be most important?
Kyle Weidie: The TAI crew recently put together this “Most Important Wizard” post. And while, as we wrote, such could be subjective, I think the way you phrased your question—”individual player’s progress”—narrows down the field to two candidates.
In one sense, it’s Bradley Beal, hands down. If Beal can stay healthy (and play like an All-Star), he’s ‘the’ key to the season. That said, we’ve generally seen glimpses of the best that Beal has to offer. John Wall, too. What we haven’t really seen is what/who/how/when/huh Otto Porter, third overall pick in 2013. If Porter can be more than solid on both ends of the floor, he can be a difference-maker for this team.
Blake Murphy: How excited are Wizards fans about Tomas Satoransky? He looks like a ton of fun, and between him, Otto Porter, and Kelly Oubre, maybe the Wizards finally have some wing depth?
Kyle Weidie: Wizards fans are as excited as excited can be about Tomas Satoransky. Of course there are his dunks. But there’s also this ‘please help us recover from the existence of Jan Vesely’ thing packaged with ‘dude, like everyone and their mother’s mothers was screaming to pick Draymond Green that year’ — so I think that translates to … hope?
Our site has tracked Satoransky for years — we even have a Czech correspondent (Lukas Kuba) — and I’ve been encouraged by the development of his jumper and his game overall as he’s seasoned himself in Spain. I wish “Saty” would have come over sooner, but I can’t fault “The Process” of him becoming a better point guard in the ACB League. And his contract — three years for $9 million — was a pleasant surprise.
So the Wizards have ‘some’ wing depth … but that depth is more concerning to Wiz Nation than you might think. For one, Porter and Oubre are the only “3s” on the team (although undrafted rookie Danuel House could make the squad), and after Wall and Beal, there’s only Trey Burke, Marcus Thornton (!!), and Satoransky in the backcourt (undrafted rookie Sheldon McClellan could also make the team). When ‘aged’ (25-year-old) rookie Tomas Satoransky is the brightest spot amongst that backcourt bunch, there’s cause for concern.
Blake Murphy: Some had sticker shock when Andrew Nicholson signed, but real #CanBall heads know he can really ball, at least on the offensive end. Are you encouraged by what you’ve seen from him so far?
Kyle Weidie: When I first saw Nicholson in person this preseason, I swear I heard the gears and widgets grinding via his ‘old man game’ all the way up in section 104 of the Verizon Center, i.e., “Blogger Row.” And he did catch my eye a number of times in the past given that the Magic are in the same division as Washington. My level of encouragement is a little TBD. For one, Washington’s big free agent ‘get’ this offseason (in lieu of Kevin Durant or Al Horford) was rim protector Ian Mahinmi. Now Mahinmi is hurt (knee surgery) and will likely be out until Thanksgiving or so. This leaves Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, and Nicholson as the team’s interior defenders — not good. So while Nicolson might see more run given this circumstance, even at “stretch-5,” I’m wary of a) his ability to defend, and to a bigger picture extent, b) his ability to not be a ball stopper when fed in the post. Not saying that I don’t admire the crafty offensive game of “YMCA,” and four-years, $26 million still ‘seems’ reasonable given his age, but I’m more curious, and uncertain, as to how he fits in with this squad. What I will say: better than more Drew Gooden.
Kyle also asked us some questions.
Kyle Weidie: In the NBA’s annual GM survey, Kyle Lowry ranked 4th in “basketball IQ” with 3.4% of the vote after LeBron (65.5%), Chris Paul (24.1%), and Steph Curry (6.9%). How exactly has Lowry displayed his high basketball IQ to followers of the Raps?
Blake Murphy: It’s hard to put these kinds of things into words, but a memory stands out to me about Lowry: After a game in the Brooklyn playoff series in 2013-14, I asked him about why he made the (correct) decision he did on a break off of a turnover. He was able to walk me through, in detail, what would have resulted from each potential read. It was similar to how everyone raves about LeBron James’ play recall. That’s just one example, of course, but Lowry does a bunch of other things – tricky changes of speeds, smart cuts, sneaky steals and charges drawn – that might stand out to observers, and as I understand it, a lot more that goes sight unseen on the practice court as a leader. I’m not going to argue soft-skill rankings given how hard it is to observe from outside, but I’m confident in calling Lowry a high-IQ player.
Kyle Weidie: Similar question to yours: If Toronto is going to maintain its title of second best team in the East, which individual player’s progress is going to be most important?
Blake Murphy: The popular answer is Norman Powell, who really came into his own late in the year, but the answer might be his competition for wing minutes in Terrence Ross. Everyone’s been down the road with Ross before and bought in only to feel foolish, but there was a great deal of optimism about his play and attitude around camp before he tweaked his knee. Ross might have a ceiling, but if the team opts not to use Jonas Valanciunas with bench-heavy units to increase his touches, any step Ross can make on the offensive end is a step toward easing the load on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Kyle Weidie: Which little-known Raptor is most primed to have a breakout year?
Blake Murphy: I don’t think there is one, to be honest. Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl have difficult paths to playing time, Delon Wright is hurt, and the team’s probably going to keep a tight nine- or 10-man rotation. The answer then, I guess, is Lucas Nogueira, who isn’t little-known but is more infamous than famous. He’s played well enough in camp to win the backup center job, and he does some really fun things on the court that will get him on highlight reels (along with his award-winning smile).
Kyle Weidie: How do the Raps plan to replace the defensive presence of Bismack Biyombo?
Blake Murphy: That’s something they’re still figuring out, and it’s going to be an experiment all season long. There’s just nobody with that kind of presence at the rim to take up his minutes, and the options to replace him – Valanciunas, Nogueira, Poeltl, and Jared Sullinger – are varying degrees of less equipped than Biyombo. Head coach Dwane Casey has instead stressed the need for better perimeter defense to decrease the reliance on help at the rim, but guys can only do so much. Valanciunas’ 2014-15 rim protection numbers, Nogueira’s length, and Poeltl’s seemingly quick learning curve leave a bit of room for optimism, but the Raptors are almost surely taking a step back on that end this year, because no schematic tweaks are coming (they had already “Thibodeau’d” the defense last summer to help in this area).
Kyle Weidie: What was your approval rating for Dwane Casey prior to the 2015-16 season, and what’s your approval rating for the coach heading into this season (and why)?
Blake Murphy: I’ve always been more in the pro-Casey camp than most of our readers. I don’t think he’s a schematic mastermind or anything like that, but I think people sometimes lose perspective of the macro and overmephasize the micro in these matters. That is, Casey does big picture things like culture, buy-in, and system well, but those go far less noticed than benign end-of-quarter play-calls. I thought he showed some progress in terms of adjustments in the postseason, too, for what that’s worth. I don’t think he’s a top-tier coach, but I think he’s solid enough that it makes sense to keep rolling with him given where the Raptors are and where they can realistically go.
The Raptors are going to continue to play it cautious with Jared Sullinger and Terrence Ross as they return from their respective foot and knee injuries, but otherwise the team could be in full “dress rehearsal” mode for their final tune-up. Check back before tip-off for a confirmed lineup.
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: Valanciunas 103 (20.6/game), Patterson 95 (19), Joseph 95 (18), Lowry 87 (21.8), DeRozan 79 (19.8), Carroll 78 (19.5)
Getting acclimated: Sullinger 23 (23)
Competition 1: Siakam 127 (21.2), Nogueira 95 (15.8), Poeltl 77 (12.8)
Competition 2: Powell 132 (22.8), Ross 50 (16.7)
Competition 3: Crawford 114 (22), VanVleet 115 (19.2), Heslip 43 (14.3), Singler 41 (10.3), Uthoff 8 (8), Moreira 5 (5)
Other: Caboclo 64 (12.8), Wright 0
The Wizards are rolling in mostly healthy, but they might opt to take it cautious with their bumps and scrapes. Jason Smith has an oblique issue and Otto Porter has a rib injury, both of which kept them out Tuesday but are considered mostly minor. Meanwhile, Ian Mahinmi is probably going to miss upwards of a month of the regular season following knee surgery.
PG: John Wall, Trey Burke, Casper Ware
SG: Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Marcus Thornton, Sheldon McClellan
SF: Otto Porter (ribs), Kelly Oubre, Danuel House, Jarell Eddie
PF: Markieff Morris, Andrew Nicholson, Jason Smith (oblique), Daniel Ochefu
C: Marcin Gortat, johnny O’Bryant,
Ian Mahinmi (knee)
You’re not gonna believe this, but the line for a preseason game is off the board. Raptors win 4-0.