It was set to be a light day here at Raptors Republic, so I figured I should get something up. A little short on column ideas after dropping a few features/breakdowns elsewhere in the last couple days, and because my mentions have been pretty rampant with questions that require more than 140 characters to answer, I thought it made sense for a mini Friday #RRMailbag.
With three days off for the Raptors following this Friday-Saturday back-to-back, I’ll be doing a full, proper #RRMailbag on Tuesday, too, so tweet me any questions with the hashtag by Monday. And you can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here, if for whatever reason you wanted to read old mailbags.
Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between.
Alright, let’s get this money.
@BlakeMurphyODC how would you assign JV's minutes in the first half to get the most out of him and find offence for this team?
— Brendan Kelley (@TheRealBKKelley) March 3, 2017
The usage of Jonas Valanciunas is one of the biggest questions facing Dwane Casey and the Raptors right now. He remains too important a piece of the team, despite his shortcomings, so simply accept that he’s now a 20-minute per-game matchup play. He’s still their best rebounder by a wide margin, and with the offense likely to struggle with Kyle Lowry on the shelf, Valanciunas presents a secondary option of moderate efficiency, even if some of his touches come with drawbacks (even shakier ball movement, the ability for defenses to collapse on him, and so on). I wrote about his potential offensive usage more over at The Athletic.
In terms of where his minutes come, it’s safe to assume that the fourth quarter is out of the question. He’s averaging fewer than three minutes per-fourth quarter since the start of February (when factoring in the zeros in games he sits) and he hasn’t seen the floor in the last four fourths. I wouldn’t write him off entirely for early in the fourth, because I think a better way to use him might be to have him help anchor second units – sub him out earlier in the first for Patirck Patterson, then bring him back in for the de facto “backup center” spot that Lucas Nogueira used to occupy when Serge Ibaka hits the bench. This tightens the frontcourt rotation to three on most nights, which may or may not be necessary, and it gives lineups with only one of Cory Joseph or DeMar DeRozan an extra weapon and a strong screen-setter.
It’s not perfect, and whatever the rotation, Valanciunas simply has to play better defense. You can’t make adjustments for a guy getting torched by Jason Smith. But he’s also still a valuable piece, and if he’s off the board as a fourth-quarter option, there remain other ways of utilizing him, like frontloading his minutes in the first three quarters and letting him help the bench out.
This is a bigger question than Valanciunas’ place in the rotation. And my answer, forced to guess, is no, Valanciunas won’t be a Raptor next year. If things go poorly, maybe – a first-round exit leaves everything on the table, including a scenario where Kyle Lowry leaves in free agency and this core heads in a different direction than it appears to be now. If things go well, though, and this Raptors core proves worthy enough of Masai Ujiri and company spending well into the luxury tax, they’re not going to be able to keep everyone. This isn’t a “cheap MLSE” thing, either. They’ll spend into the tax, that much is clear. But retaining all of the pieces on this roster, based on even conservative estimates, would push the Raptors close to the largest luxury tax bill of all time. They’re not going to do that unless they’re paying for a championship contender.
So let’s assume the Raptors repeat to the Eastern Conference Finals, and they want to keep most of the core together. Doing so with a reasonable tax bill requires losing someone, perhaps even multiple pieces. Valanciunas, with a $16-million contract and ostensibly with some trade value (the Raptors would probably only want picks back to keep their salary burden low), would be the most likely outbound piece. DeMarre Carroll’s contract would be on the table, too, but his is shorter, he would have less trade value, and he better fits what the Raptors appear to want to be. That Ibaka can capably play big minutes at the five and that the team has two other young centers who can help out makes Valanciunas the most expendable piece, and the one who stands to help the salary situation the most.
— Andrew Doucette (@andrew2doucette) February 27, 2017
I think the first part of this got answered on one of the more recent podcasts, so I’ll focus on the second. For now, it appears that Jakob Poeltl has jumped Lucas Nogueira in the rotation once again. Dwane Casey has said since the summer that the backup center position could be fluid, and while Nogueira had a stranglehold for an extended stretch, he hasn’t been shy about using Poeltl when Nogueira’s been banged up or struggled. Despite the wrap on his right hamstring Wednesday, Nogueira’s continued benching is about performance, not injury.
Moving forward, I’m not really on a “team” but believe the role should continue to be fluid. Nogueira’s played poorly over the last few weeks and doesn’t deserve to be playing much right now, but he’s also been great in the role for the bulk of the season and is still one of the team’s very best performers in terms of on/off splits. The tough thing might be that Poeltl is steady for a rookie, and while he’s unlikely to reach Nogueira’s highs this year, he’s unlikely to hit his lows, either, save for his frequent foul trouble.
So, no team here. Nogueira’s a higher-ceiling option but one who needs a short leash, and Poeltl’s there as a fill-in as necessary. It’s a nice situation to have, though it may not matter all that much when the rotation shortens in the postseason, because the center minutes figure to be accounted for by Valanciunas and Ibaka.
@BlakeMurphyODC What have you seen from Siakam so far and what level of player do you project him as?
— Steve Simpson (@stsimpson22) March 3, 2017
Obviously, Pascal Siakam was thrust into too large a role out of the gate and exposed a bit as a starting power forward. That is, umm, decidedly not his fault as a late-first round pick joining a 56-win team. Playing in a frontcourt rotation that didn’t really fit on paper, against some of the best fours and fives in the NBA, is a serious trial by fire. To his credit, Siakam held his own, at least allowing his energy to play up and always turning in a strong effort. That he was overmatched is not surprising, nor is it an indictment of him as a player or prospect.
What he was able to show was a great deal of defensive potential. He’s very active, uses his length well, and the type of energy he brings is difficult to come by. Most of his mistakes were crimes of commission, trying to do to much and over-help, rather than not doing enough. I’ll take that over a player doing too little on defense any day, and as Siakam learns the intricacies of NBA defense and the game slows down, he projects as a strong defender, capable of switching across multiple positions, protecting the rim, and helping on the glass. I’m not sure I’m as high as the organization in thinking he could be a long-term solution at power forward – we just need to see the offensive game come much further than he’s gotten to show so far – but I think he’s going to be a capable, defense-first rotation big in time.
(I also think he’s going to be best off at center, which is another reason why Valanciunas being shopped in the offseason wouldn’t surprise me.)
@BlakeMurphyODC Who would you think would form the ultimate Raptor Killer Voltron?
— Vtec Papi (@Lil_moh23) March 3, 2017
First of all, I love that Raptor Killer Voltron caught on. The Raptor Killer Voltron will also definitely be wearing a Bulls jersey. I’m sure I’ll forget someone because there are just so many guys who kills the Raptors inexplicably, but here’s a first pass at who the five current holders of the Raptor Killer rings may be:
PG: D.J. Augustin
SG: Gerald Henderson
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic
PF: Doug McDermott
C: Frank Kaminsky
ALT: Robert Covington, Ish Smith, Jason Smith
Player/Coach: Joe Johnson
I’m not sure this is a necessary question. The most interesting part of it, though, is that the answer may end up being “both” or “neither” rather than one or the other. Personally, I think the clash between Kyle Lowry and Dwane Casey is a bit overblown given Lowry’s comments not that long ago (and earlier comments that suggest maybe he likes Casey more as a person than a tactician), because sometimes frustration boils over. I also don’t think Ujiri would let a player’s whims dictate organizational decisions, nor would he let an important piece walk in favor of a coach. The reality here is that if the Raptors have continued postseason success, Casey’s job will be safe and Lowry will be more likely to return. If they stumble and exit early again, Lowry’s a candidate to walk and Casey’s seat becomes hot.
Let’s revisit this one at the end of the year, because I don’t think it’s a necessary conversation yet.
@BlakeMurphyODC could you ever see the raptors rolling out a no point guard line-up? Something like DD NP PJ SI PP
— (((Kyle Rapoport))) (@KyleRapoport) March 3, 2017
I think this is something they’ll try to avoid. On paper, it makes sense since their wing depth is now superior to their point guard depth, but the Raptors have long preferred to have multiple ball-handlers on the floor, and I don’t think a DeMar DeRozan-Norman Powell backcourt offers enough playmaking and shooting. Powell’s ability as a lead guard has been overstated some by the fanbase, even though he’s a great attacker, and DeRozan has only occasionally played without a point guard to help get him the ball in his preferred spots in his career. On a night Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet struggle, maybe it’s on the table, but they have faith in their young point guards, VanVleet brings some much-needed shooting, and Wright can get teammates cleaner looks with his funky forays into the paint. And then Cory Joseph has obviously been a major part of the team’s best units of late.
I think if they lacked confidence in their young guards to that degree, they’d explore…
@BlakeMurphyODC Jose Calderon any kind of upgrade at this point?
— Danny Middaugh (@Middaughsome) March 3, 2017
I don’t think so, as much as that hurts me to say. Nobody appreciates Jose Calderon the way I do. He’s an awesome person to have around a team, a great veteran leader, and an obvious fit with the Raptors’ organization. I even named a dog Jose in his honor before, that’s how great Calderon is.
But at this point in his career, he’s such a defensive liability that he’d exacerbate one of the team’s primary issues, enough that I don’t think it’d be a worthwhile trade-off even for the playmaking and shooting he provides. At 35 years old, Calderon is a depth piece at best, and he doesn’t figure to play meaningful minutes wherever he lands. (It sounds like that’s going to be Atlanta, by the way, and the first reaction I saw from Hawks fans was that Calderon should slot in behind Malcolm Delaney on the depth chart.) For the Raptors to sign Calderon, they’d have to waive VanVleet, a prospect they like and who has a non-guaranteed contract at the league minimum next year which provides some nice, cheap depth insurance. To make a potentially marginal upgrade on the point guard depth chart for just a couple of weeks, I’m not sure it’s worth it.
Now, would I talk myself into it in 0.00001 seconds? Absolutely. Jose is that dude.
As a reminder, if you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, we’ve started a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. Any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do, and try to do even more.