Blake Q&A

Raptors Mailbag: Fighting for playoff seeding, Wrestlemania glory, and truth in Riverdale

Short on dual days off, we take some Qs on a random Thursday.

Normally, we wait until there are multiple off-days to drop an #RRMailbag. But the Raptors don’t have that luxury for a while – shout out to the lovely Game, Off, Game, Off pattern – and questions have been coming in regardless, so I thought we’d fire one up here on this random Thursday. 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.

Playoff Rotations

The DeMarre Carroll-P.J. Tucker question was not only the most popular for the mailbag this week, but it’s been a pretty constant sore spot for people in my mentions. I get it. Carroll has underperformed his contract, he’s having a down year shooting the three, he’s in and out of the lineup, and he just isn’t the guy Raptors fans thought they were getting. Meanwhile, Tucker has been a huge shot in the arm for the team, especially on the defensive end, and he’s looked good when starting.

To wit:

Joseph-DeRozan-Carroll-Ibaka-Valanciunas: +9.3 net rating in 78 minutes
Josepg-DeRozan-Tucker-Ibaka-Valanciunas: -2.6 net rating in 179 minutes

As always with starter-bench decisions, though, it’s not always as simple as just starting your best five, though Occam’s razor suggests that’s usually the best approach. Dwane Casey has shown a preference for having Tucker help lead defense-first bench units, which is why you saw him getting a quick hook when he started, so he could be re-inserted with that group. I haven’t asked this specifically, but it seems to me that Casey likes Tucker being with the bench to be their vocal defensive quarterback, so splitting him and Ibaka some makes sense. What’s more, Tucker still closed out Wednesday’s game. You obviously want to get off to the best start possible, but the impact of flipping the two out is probably overstated if Casey is going to aggressively lean on Tucker, anyway, particularly if Carroll’s shooting regresses toward his career norms.

If the Raptors knew these were their options moving forward, I’d probably feel more strongly about starting Tucker. The impending return of Kyle Lowry colors things for me a bit, though, and no disrespect to Cory Joseph, but Lowry’s going to be a nice boost for that group. The Carroll-DeRozan-Valanciunas trio is Toronto’s most heavily used and has been a slight negative, but that trio has been just fine with Lowry and has, over two years, performed well with Lowry and Patrick Patterson. It stands to reason that Lowry and Serge Ibaka will work well with them, too, and it’s worth remembering the Raptors haven’t yet seen their presumed post-deadline starting lineup. Lowry creates enough threes that Carroll’s shooting is at more of a premium then.

Again, were this a strict meritocracy, Tucker would be starting. Dwane Casey’s comment that a guy can’t lose his job to injury is whatever, because this is more of a performance than injury question, anyway. I understand either side, but it’s not something I feel strongly about either way with Lowry’s return hanging over everything.

Next season, if ever. Delon Wright has been really solid, but a few dozen games in his NBA career isn’t going to be enough to shift Casey’s trust away from Joseph, who is playoff-proven in his backup role. Yes, Joseph’s defense has been uneven at times this year and was downright bad earlier in the season, but he’s steadied with Lowry out, and Casey trusts him in that 18-minute bench role as a secondary creator and game defender. Wright has had his own inconsistencies, and there just hasn’t been enough time for him to build up that same trust level (there has even been the odd night where Casey turns to Fred VanVleet still). Wright is an awesome prospect who makes moving Joseph palatable this offseason, but Joseph owns that backup role barring a collapse.

Eric Koreen and I tried to break this down over at The Athletic this week (20-percent discount for RR readers using this link), and I came to a conclusion something like this:

Lowry – 40
DeRozan – 38
Carroll – 22
Ibaka – 35
Valanciunas – 24

Joseph – 18
Tucker – 26
Patterson – 25

Powell – 12 with occasional DNP-CDs

Poeltl/Nogueira – matchup or foul-trouble dependent
Wright – “we need a spark in emergency and we’re reaching”
VanVleet –
Caboclo/Siakam – 905 championship

Lowry-Joseph – An unbelievably crisp fade and beard (and sometimes, fighting through screens)
DeRozan-Powell – Defensive intensity and versatility (less so lately)
Carroll-Tucker – A pulse (I kid – More physicality, better ball denial)
Ibaka-Patterson – Navigating pick-and-roll/help-and-recover situations
Valanciunas-Poeltl/Nogueira – Passing on the roll, defensive range

In theory, maybe. It’s a huge edge that Cleveland has, but the Raptors have occasionally caught fire, and the return of Lowry not only gives them their best marksman and highest-volume 3-point shooter back, the team also shoots better on threes created by Lowry passes than they do on non-Lowry threes. Overall, the Raptors are down to 12th in 3-point percentage and 21st in portion of field-goal attempts that are threes, and both of those need to tick upward (they were fifth and 15th in those categories, last year). They’ll be a bit better than they have of late, but this is hardly a team deep on volume shooting.

Cleveland, meanwhile, is the best non-Warriors shooting team in the league. It’s a huge edge, with shooters everywhere and LeBron James able to ping passes around the perimeter from post-ups. The Raptors have to hope that defensively, the addition of Tucker and return of Patterson let them give James more one-on-one attention, because showing double on him and zoning up around it hasn’t worked out in the past. Ibaka as a rangier center should help with Kevin Love/Channing Frye looks. It’s going to be more about limiting Cleveland’s long-range attack than trying to match threes.

Seeding Scenarios

It’s theoretically possible, but they still employ LeBron James, and until James gives us some amount of evidence that he can’t turn on that playoff gear he has like nobody else, then the Cavs are the favorites to come out of the East. All of the small injuries are perhaps a bit concerning and may speak to some fatigue, and they have three players well above 2,000 minutes for the year, but they’re deep, they’re good, and they’ve shown over the past few seasons that they’re capable of keeping something in the tank. It’s nice to hope on, I’m just not going to trick myself into it unless they come out struggling in round one.

The Raptors are in a weird position where winning could actually cost them in the big picture. Their magic number for locking up home court in the first round is two, so getting a top-four seed is a certainty. Catching Boston or Cleveland is out the window with a three-game gap and only seven to play. So Toronto is going to finish third or fourth, and it’s unclear which would be better – either could result in Cleveland in round two (because Cleveland and Boston are tied for the top seed), and because only two games separate fifth and eighth, it’s not immediately clear which seed would be preferable for round one.

That’s kind of a blessing, really. It’s unfortunate, mind you, but the Raptors can simply focus inward and try to be at their very best for April 15. Try to be your best, work on your chemistry and rotations and what you’re trying to do defensively, and if you win and move up, awesome! If there are a few more losses or Washington closes out strong, so be it – that’s a crime of the January malaise, not today’s Raptors. Process over results at this time of year. The Raptors also have to worry about working Kyle Lowry back into the swing of things, which might mean they play a few more “dress rehearsal” style games rather than resting.

The only game I could see the Raptors turning a focus to seeding is the April 12 finale against Cleveland. There probably won’t be clarity with three-four, one-two, and five-eight until closer to then, and that one game could end up determining Toronto’s three playoff opponents in order. Or it could be meaningless. We’ll probably do a mailbag that week and we can figure out what to do then. My guess? Everything remains too up in the air for the Raptors to intentionally try to move up or down for a particular opponent or outcome.

It’ll depend on how long Lowry has been back for. It’d be nice to see Lowry get in maybe three games before the playoffs, and if he hasn’t gotten enough reps, the Raptors will probably treat that game (or at least the first half) as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts, running out their regular rotation to get more of a feel for it. They may not tip their hand schematically or tactically, but I don’t think they’ll go into full rest mode if they’re not 100-percent comfortable with Lowry back. It’s also worth noting that even if they draw the earliest possible playoff start time, they’ll play just once over five days leading into the postseason, so they should be rested well enough.

Also, P.J. Tucker should lock LeBron James in the sharpshooter at mid-court.

Taking Cleveland to seven? Absolutely. The Raptors took Cleveland to six last year, and I think this team with Lowry back is significantly better than last year’s team in May. You have to remember that the Cavs hammered the Raptors in their four wins so the series wasn’t as *close* as six games would suggest, but the formula is there for beating them, at least at home. They have additional options to throw at James, Cleveland’s defense at the point of attack and at the rim is suspect, the Raptors have a better small-ball center for this matchup now (bless Bismack Biyombo, but the Cavs did a great job exploiting his offensive limitations and pulling him away from the rim on defense), and they’re just better. Toronto has some stronger metrics than Cleveland for the season and of late, and while James and Cleveland’s 3-point shooting are huge issues, the Raptors should be able to push Cleveland even more than last year.

The Cavs are still the favorite, to be clear, and Toronto’s at a bigger risk to not even make it to that matchup. But Cavs-Raptors II should be fun.

The Raptors were always going to be measured this year by how they matched up with Cleveland in the postseason.

Masai Ujiri needs to be confident that this core can eventually top a LeBron James-led team in the near future, because the luxury tax situation the Raptors are looking down contains some difficult decisions. Keeping everyone is unreasonable even if the Raptors over-perform in the postseason, because that would require an historical luxury tax bill. But they’ll go into the tax if there’s evidence this Raptors core is in a position to strike as James ages (if James ages, ever). But losing to Cleveland in a competitive series wouldn’t be a failure, whether it comes in the second round or the third, and whether it’s in six games or seven, so long as it’s a tight series and you can draw a line from the series to this same core doing even better in the matchup next year.

The bigger questions will come if Toronto doesn’t make it to a Cleveland series, or if they do and the Cavs dispatch of them in a short series. It’s going to take a lot of qualitative analysis beyond just the number of games a series went to get a feel for whether this group can get where the franchise wants to go.

(I’ve also long been of the mind that the title-or-bust approach isn’t right for this franchise, given its history and its place in the city’s sport and cultural landscape. Being very good for a long time is important, too. So I wouldn’t need to be convinced this group can win a title in 2018 to want to keep most of the group together. It’s going to be an interesting post-mortem when this year concludes.)

Raptors Miscellaneous

I wrote out an entire response to this Wednesday, and then we actually got some news! Lowry has progressed to shooting with his right hand, which is a huge, huge step. Really, the biggest in his recovery. We still don’t have a timeline for his return, but the team has practices Saturday and Monday (they’re off today), so even if he’s still a few games away, he may be able to begin getting comfortable with teammates shortly. That’s great – two-to-three weeks is a pretty good runway to get your shooting feel back, I think.

As a refresher, he had surgery Feb. 28, the team only said they were hopeful he’d be back by the playoffs, and Woj’s report had four-to-five weeks as the “optimistic” timeline. Tuesday marked the start of that optimistic timeline, so he’s still got a few days until he’s even past the optimistic scenario (April 4).

An additional silver lining: Of all player types, a pick-and-roll distributing point guard who is a quality defender when locked in as among the easiest imaginable player types to find chemistry with. I’m not particularly concerned about Lowry playing with P.J. Tucker or Serge Ibaka, nor am I all that concerned about Dwane Casey’s adjustment period with the rotation. If he can get in even two or three games, I’m cool, so long as I’m given some evidence his jumper is OK.

It’s tough to put a minimum on a guy, because the honest answer is that there are Steve Francis and Allen Iverson examples that litter NBA history. Guards, particularly small ones, can fall off a cliff. But Lowry seems to take care of himself a lot better than those guys, is hyper-competitive, and also didn’t have a ton of miles on him early on in his career, at least from a strictly playing time perspective. The workload, modern sport science, and the fact that he has one massive skill that ages well (shooting) perhaps bode well for a slighter decline.

I don’t think he plays at this level more than two more seasons, but you can hope that the back end of a deal would see him slow into a quality player still – a savvy leader who can space the floor and work in more of a pass-first role. Is that the most likely outcome? History would suggest otherwise, and his style of play has some flags. The Raptors will have to hope that the front years of the deal provide enough surplus value to make the back years worth it, while acknowledging the less tangible benefits to re-signing him (organizational stability, signalling future stars, remaining “very good” through DeRozan’s peak years, and so on).

The biggest thing DeRozan has going for him is the primacy effect: He started the season hotter than maybe anyone, was voted into a high-profile All-Star spot, and is now closing the season strong on a team that’s outperforming expectations without his counterpart. That’s a great case, and DeRozan deserves a world of credit for flipping the narrative about his offensive style of play on its head. He’s continued to win a ton of people over, and some voters are going to want to reward his growth, his robust scoring numbers, and the Raptors’ play without Lowry. He should definitely be written on the scrap piece of paper people are choosing from.

Working against him is that said piece of paper is very large. There’s not a great argument to be made for listing DeRozan as a forward (he plays about 70 percent of his minutes at shooting guard), where things might be at least a little easier. At guard, the competition is obscene: Russell Westbrook and James Harden are competing for an MVP award; John Wall has been just as important to a team of equal quality, without a tag-team partner the quality of Lowry; Isaiah Thomas might push Wall for fifth on MVP ballots; Steph Curry has taken a step back but still has insane full-season numbers; Chris Paul has missed too much time but leads the league in Real Plus-Minus by a vast margin; DeRozan might lose some love for Lowry’s dominance over 60 games; Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, and Kyrie Irving loom to siphon votes.

DeRozan is definitely among the 10 best guards in the NBA this season. But only six get the nod. Whether or not he gets on will be an interesting look into what voters are looking at and valuing with their selections, because despite DeRozan’s immense case, catch-all advanced metrics still aren’t all that high.

According to Tucker himself, it’s just been a matter of buy-in. A “detailed” breakdown is beyond the scope of the mailbag, but some of the changes jump out. Those chase-back steals? The blocks at the rim? The massive bump in rebounding? Those are new, and a lot of those are effort and attention plays. DeRozan’s always been a decent ball hawk in the half court, jumping passing lanes, but he’s been abel to cut down on the back-door cuts that too-often have accompanied those gambles (and him catching a breather). The team being able to switch two-through-four so often lessens the impact of teams trying to go at DeRozan to wear him down, and he’s responding by using his size well to make those switches more palatable. It’s a lot of little things adding up, things that should be expected when games matter most but are understandably absent at times over the 82-game grind with his offensive workload.

I answered this a while back and went into detail on the different definitions, but what DeRozan has to worry about here is the “greatest” vs. “most important” distinction. Unless he helps bring a title to Toronto, nobody is jumping Vince Carter for most important/prominent.

Greatest? Well, DeRozan’s already begun a pretty substantial assault on the team’s record books, topping the list in games, minutes, points, and some smaller categories. He still has four-plus years left on his deal. He’s going to be untouchable for a long time when it comes to the combination of greatness and longevity, and for most franchises, especially those without a lot of championship success, that’s what will matter most down the line. That he’s peaking during the best era in franchise history is huge, too, and being able to claim a spot as one of the two best players on maybe four of the five best Raptor teams ever is huge. His overall resume in terms of actual production, ignoring the context of the franchise, is better than Chris Bosh or even Carter, and DeRozan’s 2016-17 is edging close to Carter’s best seasons in terms of peak (it won’t get there, but this is probably a top-five Raptor season).

This offseason should be telling. Lowry has a case depending on some definitions if he returns to form and is the team’s best player in the postseason again, and then re-signs. So long as the offseason plays out such that Toronto’s competitive window remains open, Lowry and DeRozan will continue to elbow Bosh out of the discussion and build a case against Carter.

Man, Delon Wright is a problem on defense. It’s so much fun. The way he slithers over screens and doesn’t lost his man is terrific. That wing span standing at the top of the key is great for causing hesitation early in opponent sets, too. He’s going to be a nice two-way piece.

Five years is such a long time. I’m inclined to say Norman Powell because there is a certain upside he possesses that a center in Jakob Poeltl’s mold just can’t really reach. With Powell’s athleticism, drive, and work ethic, it’s difficult to bet against him reaching any level he decides to aim for. Development can go in a lot of different directions, of course, but “impact” to me speaks to upside, and Powell has more of that. Poeltl has an exceptional floor, though, and I see basically no scenario in which he’s not at least a very good backup center.

At this point, probably Tucker and Ibaka. It’s a toss-up between Patterson and Tucker depending on how much you value that shooting and worry about Tucker’s age, what you see happening at the center position, and how important Tucker’s positional flexibility is to you. You can make a case either way. If Valanciunas is outbound, Patterson become a little more important since Ibaka would theoretically be playing more five, but Tucker gives some nice positional versatility, too.

An important distinction that is perhaps unfair for me to assume: Patterson, at a younger age and in a different career place, is probably going to command more money than Tucker, who has never made the playoffs and seems a likely candidate to take a veteran discount to play for a contender. Patterson has probably cost himself a bit of money this year thanks to his injury and a slump coming out of it (he’s been much better of late, by the way), but good teams are going to appreciate his defense, his shooting, and his acceptance of a low-usage role. He’s probably still looking at eight figures, while Tucker might be more affordable. That’s a big swing factor facing a luxury tax crunch.

It’s probably a little too early to be looking at specific trade-dump scenarios, but to take a step back, as I’ve written in the past, I do think the plan will be to re-sign the free agents and unload a Jonas Valanciunas or DeMarre Carroll if possible. (If things go well in the playoffs, anyway.) Valanciunas should have value on the market as a pre-prime center with some obvious strengths and a reasonable contract, and while he’s a nice piece in general, the Raptors clearly prefer a different brand of ball and have a pair of young centers capable of filling depth roles around Serge Ibaka. Carroll’s a trickier salary to unload, but a two-year, $30M deal really isn’t all that arduous (in fact, were it not for the luxury tax implications, I would have no qualms about Carroll sticking around).

When it comes to tying a pick or prospect to an outbound salary, I hesitate a little more. Then you’re getting into a situation where you almost have to look at the totality of your moves like a trade. Is Carroll and Lucas Nogueira “worth” retaining P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson? Is a first-round pick and four years of affordable control plus Valanciunas worth retaining Ibaka? Some of these scenarios are going to firmly be a “yes” for the Raptors, but I’d guess the hope is they can actually recoup a low-end asset for someone they’re sending out rather than paying (it’s part of why I think it’s more likely Valanciunas goes than Carroll). If you’re unloading a salary to create financial wiggle room, attaching an inexpensive roster piece with it is a curious decision, creating a hole on the roster you might not be able to fill as cheaply.

(Just as a pedantic note, I knew what ET was getting at in the question, but the Raptors won’t be able to move into ‘cap space’ without a more significant overhaul. They have Bird rights on all of their free agents, though, so simply lessening the luxury tax is a worthwhile goal, because they’re not going to pay an historic tax bill for a non-title team.)

He’s coming along. Unfortunately, the tail end of his D-League season has been derailed by shoulder soreness, which has cost him four of the last Raptors 905 games. Outside of that setback, he’s been progressing, particularly on the defensive end. He’s now what you’d safely call a plus defender at the D-League level, and he’s gotten much, much better at using his length to be disruptive in the context of a team defense. He’s active and handsy, makes good reads helping the helper or helping and recovering back to the perimeter, and his man-to-man defense has taken steps forward. At that end of the floor, the intrigue remains obvious – he might be 7-feet now, he’s obscenely long, he continues to bulk up (there’s still a way to go for him to be a power forward, likely his best landing spot, but he’s solid already), and he’s showing regular, consistent flashes as a defensive weapon.

There’s still a long way to go offensively, though. His role has been smaller in Jerry Stackhouse’s more democratic offense, and Caboclo hasn’t responded to the lower usage with increased efficiency. He’s not really a big threat to put the ball on the floor or create for himself, and he’s probably just an average D-Leaguer at best at that end (and, honestly, he’s probably not even that yet). What Caboclo does offer is a 3-point stroke that is unblockable and looks pretty. He shot 33.5 percent on threes last year and is at 34 percent this year, so the results aren’t there yet (NBA teams would abandon him), but the makings of a 3-point threat are there.

The thing to remember with Caboclo is that he’s still among the 20 youngest players in the NBA (he’s 21) and has only played about one full season of minutes in total across three partial D-League seasons. He remains raw, and if a 21-year-old with these measurements and a semblance of a 3-point shot was entering the draft this year, he’d probably be a really nice prospect. It’s irritating that the Raptors have had to invest three years so far to get to that “nice prospect” point, sure, but that’s a sunk cost and kind of needs to be set aside when evaluating Caboclo the player. If you look, the reasons the team remains high on him (high enough to exercise his option for next year, anyway) are clear, even if you don’t necessarily agree.

As for if he’ll ever contribute, well, not next year, would be my guess. If he continues to develop and the Raptors opt to re-up him on a team-friendly deal in 2018, I could see him playing a backup role at some point. The development curve is not linear, though, so Caboclo could have a light turn on and be a factor sooner, or he could plateau and never be more than D-League fodder.

An aside if anyone was curious: Caboclo’s English is pretty solid now. I was talking to him Wednesday, and you can have a fluid conversation with him, which is a far cry from last year. He’s also pretty funny.

I’ve maintained that I think Pascal Siakam’s best role long-term is probably as a combo-big rather than a combo-forward. I know the team likes his potential to guard threes, but the modern NBA suggests players should always shift to a bigger position if they can, not a smaller one. Siakam’s defense has the makings of a fit with the switch-heavy way the Raptors want to play, and his strong rebounding and decent rim-protection instincts lead me to believe he’d be better off as a small center right now, rather than a power forward. If Jonas Valanciunas heads out this summer, maybe Siakam is competing for minutes at the four and five. He’s probably not a major contributor on paper next year unless things go awry in the playoffs or free agency (even if Patrick Patterson were to walk, the Raptors would play small a fair amount, and Siakam may only be penciled in for 15 minutes or so).

From an upside perspective, a lot will depend on how Siakam’s shooting comes along. He’s showing really nice improvement on his jumper in practice and the D-League, but these are small samples, and I’m not exactly a mechanics expert. It’s encouraging, if nothing else. His ball skill will need to come along some, too, if he’s going to be able to effectively attack close-outs. These things are within the realm of possibility, and his experience earlier this year should only help from an awareness/IQ perspective.

I think he’ll be a realistic rotation option by 2018.

That the question was asked twice with different position assumptions tells you all you need to know. I’ve written about this a bit in the past, but I’m very much in the “best talent available” camp, or at least in favor of a tiered structure where you don’t pass up a higher-class talent to fill a position need. Things change so damn quickly that it’s tough, in late June, to look at a roster and say “yes, this kid who probably won’t contribute for a long time fits this hole that we have right now.” Delon Wright filled a need on draft night. Jakob Poeltl didn’t. And yet the latter has figured in more than the former, because things change pretty quickly.

Looking at how the roster might look next summer, I think another wing or combo-forward to develop makes some sense, but you could talk me into a third young, cheap big for 905 duty (the pick is going to be late, remember), or simply taking the highest upside name on the board. I do think they’ll use the pick, because with the luxury tax crunch they’re facing, having eight (!) players on rookie or entry-level deals is a nice way to limit costs elsewhere. And I think, this far out, I’ll probably lean upside over floor, but it’s pretty early in draft prep season.

I am unclear exactly what this question is asking. I’m assuming it only means this year, in which case, my best top-of-the-head pass at this…

Best loss: 127-121 to the Warriors on Nov. 16. Just so much fun, even if the late comeback was never all that realistic on the second night of a Cavs-Warriors back-to-back.
Worst loss: 115-103 to the Suns on Jan. 22. In the thick of their six-week malaise or so, they were brutal, and on home court while fairly rested no less.
Best win: 115-102 over the Rockets on Nov. 23. There are some recent examples (Bos, Was, Mia) with Lowry out, but this one, a mid-road trip road win against a great team, still stands out.
Worst win: 103-95 over the Nets on Feb. 5. They needed it so badly and sure, they were on the road and shorthanded, but this was awful. (The recent Det W wins for “ugliest win,” by the way.)

Wrestling with Raptors

The back-story here, for anyone who didn’t catch it: Kyle Lowry interrupted DeMar DeRozan’s post-game interview the other night and hit him with an “IT DOESN’T MATTER!” He got love from The Rock on Twitter afterward, too. Sadly, I asked Lowry about his wrestling fandom, and it’s a thing of the past – he was only ever really a fan of The Rock, and when he left, so did Lowry. As for DeRozan, “no-selling” is when a wrestler acts like an opponent attack didn’t hurt, a Hulk Hogan “hulking up” special that DeRozan has been deploying against defenses all year long, particularly in third quarters.

Any tangible, obvious WWE reference wins for me, so Lowry gets the nod for laying it on thick and using one of the better long-running shticks ever created. Shout out to WWE superfan Vince Carter, by the way.

This question is impossibly hard and probably warrants its own piece. I’ll try my best to do this rapid-fire.

Current WWE – Patrick Patterson (there’s plenty for the smarks to complain about and it’s hardly perfect, but it’s still successful despite your grievances)
80s WWE – Jonas Valanciunas (he would have been an All-Star in this era, or among the greatest WWE heels ever opposite Hulk Hogan)
Attitude Era WWE – Kyle Lowry (I’m terrified to not put him in with The Rock after how adamant he was about his Rock loyalty the other day)
WCW – DeMarre Carroll (was really good somewhere else but has been a little disappointing when merged with the Raptors)
Good ECW – DeMar DeRozan (the method rubs some the wrong way, but it’s impossible to deny the influence)
WWE ECW – Pascal Siakam (real potential but was shoved down throats a little too quickly and in the wrong way, through no fault of the performer)
PWG – Norman Powell (perhaps not necessary to watch consistently but the workrate is consistently high, and you’ll go out of your way for the big shows)
LU – Delon Wright (real heads have appreciated for a while but it’s only with the recent move to Netflix [Lowry’s injury] that people are getting to enjoy it)
NJPW – P.J. Tucker (#KingOfStrongStyle)
ROH – Jakob Poeltl (it’s fun to enjoy now, too, but you’re really just left thinking about how this projects to a bigger platform down the line)
TNA – Lucas Nogueira (there is just so much to scratch your head at and pull your hair out about, sandwiched around some legitimately good work)
Me wrestling my nephew in the living room at Christmas – Bruno Caboclo

This is a really tough question, especially since Lowry has to get The Rock, even if there’s not a great connection there. Serge Ibaka is definitely getting Shawn Michaels’ music for the looks (I’m ruling out Georges St-Pierre’s old french hip hop, tough call), and DeMarre Carroll getting The Junkyard Dog’s only makes sense. That leaves Jonas Valanciunas, who would obviously be given generic Eastern European villain music. For the bench, I’d probably put the 905 guys in a stable with the old Nexus music (obviously). PJ Tucker gets Mark Henry’s “somebody gon’ get their ass kicked.”

And for DeMar DeRozan, he gets one of the greatest entrance themes ever created. Oh, he can’t shoot threes so he can’t be efficient? He’s not an All-Star? The team will sink without Kyle Lowry? Sounds like you think you know him, but on this day…

I’m not sure it’s that low on workrate. The thing with ‘Mania is that it has to be built to serve multiple purposes. You need the “spectacle” matches for the very casual or lapsed fan (Undertaker-Roman Reigns, Shane McMahon-AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar-Goldberg), you need the cross-platform attention stuff (Cena/Bella-Miz/Maryse, Big Show-Shaq had it happened), and you throw a couple of smarky matches on there (Kevin Owens-Chris Jericho, Neville-Austin Aries). The thing is, though, it’s Wrestlemania – over the last few years, the cards have been very low on “bad” matches, even if nothing’s exactly WrestleKingdom levels. The main event and the Undertaker match are at risk of being objectively bad, but McMahon-Styles will deliver, the two workrate matches you mentioned will be awesome, and the storytelling involved in some of the others (Miz/Cena, Bray Wyatt-Randy Orton) can help take potentially average matches up a gear.

I’m probably most looking forward to Owens-Jericho, Wyatt-Orton second, and the Triple H-Seth Rollins non-match third, but other than Goldberg/Lesnar and maybe the Smackdown women’s title match, there’s nothing I think won’t be good (don’t sleep on Dean Ambrose-Baron Corbin, by the way, and even the Raw tag match nonsensically being made a ladder match should make for some fun).

Oh, and there’s Takeover on Saturday. You want workrate? That tag match is going to be insane.

For part one, I mean, you tell me! (See my answer at the very end of this column.)

As for the ATGMBR, that’s definitely going to Braun Strowman. Lifting weights and eating steaks, baybee.

The Bret Hart-Stone Cold double-turn match from Wrestlemania 13 is my favorite wrestling match of all time, Wrestlemania or otherwise. So that one. The storytelling leading up to that match, the actual quality of the work, and the emotion of the crowd throughout makes it truly special. Not only that, but it absolutely made one of the two biggest superstars of an entire generation and solidified Hart as one of the greatest of all time (his heel-but-not-in-Canada stuff that flowed from it was terrific). Bret and Owen Hart at Wrestlemania 10, Shawn Michaels-Kurt Angle from Wrestlemania 21, Angle-Brock Lesnar-if-Lesnar-hits-the-Shooting-Star-Press at Wrestlemania 19, the Michaels-Razor Ramon ladder match, Hart-Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 8, and Michaels-Chris Jericho from Wrestlemania 19 are all up there, too. There are so many.

In a fight? No way. Joseph might look like a sweetheart, but he’s got five inches on me and is a professional athlete. Even if I have an experience edge, there’s likely a significant strength difference, the reach edge goes his way significantly, and – and here’s the kicker – he has 14 teammates ready to run in. Now, in a wrestling match, could I beat Joseph? Absolutely.

Non-Raptors Miscellaneous

You’re the worst.

(Back story: I don’t like potatoes. Like, any kind of potatoes. Fries, chips, mashed, scalloped, whatever. Potatoes are gross and certain people think it’s funny to tease me about being a weirdo. Justifiably.)

This is a tough one for me to answer, as I’ve only done Summer League once, and I didn’t exactly do it in a way I’d suggest for others who are going as fans. I was there for eight days, had maybe three alcoholic beverages, went to a casino once, and worked the rest of the time. If you’re going as a fan, I’d probably just circle one or two days with a good schedule and hit the arena those days only. It’s just too exhausting to be in the gym all day, from a vacation standpoint, and there isn’t very much immediately around the arena area to break up the days. So pick a couple days you want to be there, lay out a rough viewing plan (the two arenas are attached), and settle in. I’d also spend some time walking the concourse – you’ll see a lot of league and media people, The Starters are usually set up somewhere, and so on.

Oh, and don’t stay at the Silver Sevens just for proximity to the arena and to save on money. Nope. Nope. Never again.

I’m really not sure. I think maybe he just googled his name and picked an alter ego. I’m not sure why nobody ever believes me when I say I’m Will’s dad…Will is exactly what he sounds like on the podcast: A white dude with a deep voice and a large head.

For those unaware, there is a pretty in-depth fan theory that a zombie apocalypse is about to set upon Riverdale. This is based on a recent Archie comic story in which Sabrina The Teenage Witch (appearing in the season finale!) brings Jughead’s dog back from the dead, only for the dog to start spreading a zombie virus. The clues some people are looking to in the show include Cheryl Blossom saying Jason was “supposed” to come back, Dilton Doiley being so concerned with his survivalist group becoming a bigger necessity, and some other hints. That string of Archie comics also have the same writer as the show, if I recall correctly.

Anyway, it’s a fun thought, but I’m not a believer. It just seems like a lot, even for a show like this, and a storyline like that would kind of have to dominate everything (eventually). Considering they only sold one season initially, it would have been quite a bet on their own success to write it that way. I guess it’s possible – maybe as a B-plot only one or two of the characters are following on the side – but I don’t think that’s going to be the *big* reveal at the end of this season.

As always, I’m going to decline to speculate for the sake of those who haven’t watched or aren’t caught up yet. If you fall in that group, what are you waiting for? The show just took three weeks off (thankfully it’s back this week) for everyone to catch up! I will lay out a few side theories, though.

1. Jughead didn’t do it, but he’s going to be looped into the cover up. It’s clear that the Serpents, and particularly FP Jones, had some hand in at least the burning of the evidence in a car, and at some point, Jughead is going to find out. Because of his troubled relationship with his dad and FP’s own legal history, Jughead will have to sit on the information, which will cause the necessary friction in the Betty relationship.

1B. Betty’s “just friends” talk with Jughead is going to result in Jughead writing better music than Archie could ever fathom. We’re talking From Under The Cork Tree levels of unrequited love letters, here. Jughead’s prose is terrible, but the girl next door not returning your feelings is the stuff great pop-punk is made of.

2. Archie isn’t the only student Miss Grundy was sleeping with.

2B. Sadly, they never address the “Chasing Amy Theory.”

3. Jughead hasn’t been shown eating burgers on screen yet because they’re building to a burger addiction storyline. Yes, we’ve seen him eat pancakes, but not a single burger? It’s the dude’s defining characteristic. I think some time in season two we’ll be seeing Jughead sneaking bites out of Pop’s wrappers in his locker, burgers falling out of his backpack, and so on. I need a scene with sad Jughead staring off with an enormous platter of burgers in front of him.

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