2017-18 Raptors Season Preview Panel, Part One

It’s finally here. Let’s roundtable up.

At long last, the NBA is back. Enough of the much-too-long preseason, enough of the training camp storylines, manufactured or otherwise, enough of speaking in hypotheticals. The season is here very shortly, which means all that’s left to check off the preseason To Do List is our annual staff roundtable. All of our player previews can be found here. Part two of the roundtable goes a little later, part one is below. Let’s get these 2017-18 buckets.

1. What are you most excited about for the 2017-18 season?

William Lou: Flying below the radar. Neither the team nor the fanbase does well with expectations, so coming into a year with nebulous playoff hopes works great for me. This way if they’re good, we’ll be pleasantly surprised, rather than last year where haunting disappointment hung over them for two months in the regular season before rearing its ugly head in the playoffs. Just give me quality basketball without any meaningful expectations.

Matt Shantz: I connected with Masai the moment he arrived in Toronto and started to talk about using the end of the roster to develop young talent instead of carrying aging veterans. It’s such a simple and beautiful concept, and this season I am excited to (hopefully) watch the Raptors reap the rewards of this strategy. While the core has largely stayed the same (plus the addition of CJ Miles), this season will be defined by the arrival of players like Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, and OG Anunoby.

Vivek Jacob: The new offence. The early signs have been very encouraging, but it almost seems too good to be true to expect it to continue for 82 games + playoffs. Lowry shooting more threes, DeRozan the passer, and even Jonas the conductor. There is so much to love about what this can do to reinvigorate a team that seemed to be stuck in mud heading into the offseason.

Louis Zatzman: I’m most excited to have something to watch every night other than re-runs of It’s Always Sunny.

Tamberlyn Richardson: The Raptors remain a youthful squad with the seventh youngest player average in the NBA. Of the six younger squads the Bulls are headed for the lottery and only the Celtics and Blazers have returning youth with varsity and playoff experience. But, unlike those two squads, all but OG Anunoby have experience with the varsity squad, participated in the post season or played a major role in the G-League Title. I’m also a big fan of the Wright-VanVleet duo point guard reserve backcourt. As for OG Anunoby- see question 6.

Sahal Abdi: I personally can’t wait to follow Delon Wright’s development throughout the season. He’s been patiently waiting for this opportunity for a long, long time. We all know the talent, fit and versatility is there for him to make an impact this season.

Joshua Howe: C.J. Miles! It’s no secret that DeMarre Carroll just never found his footing with the Raptors, and he never really recovered from that injury he suffered at the end of his time with Atlanta. Miles is coming off of his best-ever shooting season from distance (41.3 per cent), and he’s not shy about hoisting them up—he will be a key cog as the Raptors try to change their play-style. Carroll always looked like he was hobbling, and you were never quite sure if he was hurt or not. Miles has looked spry and comfortable this preseason, and a solid addition to the starting lineup.

Shyam Baskaran: Probably seeing what the core of Lowry, DeMar and Ibaka can do with a full training camp and half a season together under their belt now. Despite Ibaka’s talent, I know he could’ve used more time acclimating to the Raptors’ system last year, so there should be no complaints on that end this year. Other exciting things for me are the prospect of seeing where the young guys are at in their development (Norm, Poeltl, Wright, Siakam), and if OG Anunoby can make his way into the rotation consistently.

Alex Gres: Watching what appears to be a more modern, pass-happy NBA offense, and how the roster responds. Coming in a close second – seeing the young guys getting plenty of action. Each and every one of them has another notch to get to, and I can’t wait to see them try.

Katie Heindl: For the unknown! As a team I feel like the Raptors tend to do better going into seasons where they aren’t necessarily expected to do well, and no one is expecting anything of us, so the odds are ripe that this will be our year. I also heard the ACC hot dog situation has improved, so.

Scott Hastie: A whole season for Ibaka, Lowry and DeRozan to mesh. The group was good last season, but I’m interested to see what they can do with more time together.

Tim Chisholm: I’m really excited about the way that Jonas Valanciunas has been playing in preseason so far. The overall uptempo and pass-heavy offence has bene nice to see, but I remain skeptical that the team will remain committed to it all season long, especially when the hit rough spots in the season. Valanciunas, though, looks healthy, spry, and is seeing the game so much better that he’s able to play his way out stagnant periods in a game. Much like what happened with Lowry and DeRozan at around this point in their careers, Valanciunas seems to have learned from his first handful of years in the league. I am not expecting Valanciunas to make a huge leap, but I am optimistic that he’ll be more than an afterthought this season, and I’m intrigued to see what that looks like.

Blake Murphy: To see how DeRozan responds to the changes in offensive system. Everyone should be well beyond the point of doubting DeRozan’s capacity for self-improvement, and watching him grow annually has been one of the best parts of covering the team over the last few years. The additions to his game, however subtle, have always been impressive, and now he’s facing his biggest challenge yet: One that is outward-looking and about his interaction with the larger game around him rather than just continuing to maximize what he, the individual, is capable of. That’s exciting, and I’m a firm believer that DeRozan will embrace more of a distributor role. A bold prediction, if I may: DeRozan joins the vaunted 25-5-5 club (or if you prefer a more-arbitrary feeling but analyically leaning club).

2. A year ago, the Raptors were one of just three teams to finish in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. With the losses of P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, and even DeMarre Carroll, that would seem to be a taller task this time around (and remember, the defense was fairly shaky before the addition of Tucker and Serge Ibaka). Can this defense remain above average?

William Lou: They can definitely remain above average. Let’s not forget that the Raptors have finished top-10 in defense for three out of the last four years. They had YMCA legend Luis Scola and a taped-up Amir Johnson in two of those seasons and now they have Serge Ibaka. Losing Patterson and Tucker creates an area of weakness in the playoffs, but on a night-to-night basis this team should be solid. There’s only three minus defenders in the entire rotation (DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, and what people think Jonas Valanciunas could be).

Matt Shantz: I’m probably a sucker for thinking this, but I believe that this year’s roster has a higher defensive ceiling than last year. I’m a bigger believer in Delon Wright than Cory Joseph, OG Anunoby can be a different maker, the Raptors’ now have CJ “Two Legs” Miles instead of DeMarre “One Knee” Carroll, and a full season of Ibaka will do wonders. I think we underestimate how bad Toronto was on defense for the first half of the season last year.

Vivek Jacob: Above average is possible, I think. P.J. Tucker was a huge part of the defensive improvement in the second half of the season, but I still feel there are enough pieces to keep their head above water on this end. Minimizing the miscues on the other end as a result of the improved pace will probably be the determining factor of where they finish. The Houston Rockets finished 55-27 in the mighty West last year with a second-best offensive rating, but were 18th in defensive rating. The current era of pace and space makes the value of a good offense far greater than a good defense, at least in the regular season.

Louis Zatzman: The Raptors don’t have a single elite isolation or help defender on their roster. I have a feeling all the non-believers will be mourning the loss of Patrick Patterson before it’s all said and done.

Tamberlyn Richardson: I’m optimistic they can. Granted, Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson historically played clutch time minutes, but Powell and Ibaka are proven defensive assets. Moreover, if JV and DeRozan continue their preseason trend of improved defensive effort and focus that will also play a factor. Despite youngsters (Wright, VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, Poeltl and Bebe) replacing reserve mainstays it’s conceivable their athleticism, speed and effort could net improvements in different defensive categories. Specifically, creating turnovers, steals, blocks, and perimeter or transition defense. Their preseason efforts speak to this as Toronto was either in the middle of the pack or ranked top 10: blocks (5.2 – 9th) and steals (10.0 – 3rd). Opponent stats: points scored: 103.0 (15th), FG% (45.5% – 17th), 3PFG% (37.tied 19th). FGs made (36.4 – 9th). 3PFG made (9.4- T6th). There is no replacement for experience, so I’m keen to see them play (mistakes and all) as lessons learned this fall/winter will behoove the youngsters in the spring.

Sahal Abdi: This may be a cop-out answer but I think Toronto won’t be a terrible team defensively, nor will they be elite. I think losing 2Pat and Cory Joseph will sting, but guys like Delon Wright and OG Anunoby should lessen the blow for Toronto’s nightly defensive impact. They should be right around average this season.

Joshua Howe: The good news? There were only three teams in the Eastern Conference other than the Raptors last season who were ranked in the league-wide top 10 in offensive rating: Boston, Cleveland, and Washington. Most teams in the East just aren’t that great offensively, and that gives Toronto a boost. The bad news? A lot of the Raptors’ better defenders are now young guys, which means there is more room for error than when there were established vets in those spots. However, I still think the Raps can manage a top 10 spot defensively—a full season with Ibaka, for example, should help.

Shyam Baskaran: This is a tough one. I would say remnants of the Dwane Casey defensive-focus from prior years may stick to certain guys, but the only players who have been around long enough are Lowry, DeMar and JV, all of whom aren’t really known for their defense anyway. So, until they can prove otherwise, I’m going to say the defense will be around the middle-of-the-pack or even slightly below average, while the offense may see an improvement.

Alex Gres: It all depends on how the stars approach things. If DeMar decides he’s going to lead by example and stay engaged on every defensive play, I can see the rest follow. While losing Tucker and Patterson hurts, Anunoby’s early return from injury is encouraging, as he’s projected to develop into Tucker’s wing stopper role. My bet for the year – Raps end up 12-14th on the defensive rating ladder.

Katie Heindl: Aside from Joseph and PJ, was there really a big loss on defense? God I miss PJ, and how good would it have been to have a PJ and CJ on the roster, but so far I like what Miles is doing on defense. If JV and Ibaka can finally work something out, and the young bench stays confident and physical, we’re in good shape. By no means are we defensive juggernauts, but the Raptors are still SNEAKY.

Scott Hastie: Yes. While we’ve got some young guys on the bench, they have reps under their belt and know they won’t play if they don’t defend. Plus, there’s a lot of bad teams in the East that can inflate the numbers.

Tim Chisholm: Above average, I think, is a realistic goal. This may have less to do with the Raptors, however, and more to do with the rest of the league. You have to figure that Chicago and Atlanta struggle to stay top ten in defence this year, which should keep the door open for Toronto, while Charlotte might claw their way up, which could pose a threat. If Milwaukee and Boston make a leap defensively, then Toronto could easily fall out of the top ten. If no team makes a jump, the Raptors have a realistic shot to get back into the 8-9-10 range.

Blake Murphy: That the team has managed to cobble together an above-average defense in three of the last four seasons despite some pretty poor defensive anchors and a constantly tweaked system lends confidence. The Raptors somewhat paradoxically defend in a way that they hope teams defend them, but they’ve been pretty good at a few elements of defense in the recent past: Defensive rebounding and forcing turnovers. The rebounding slid a bit last year but should bounce back with more minutes using a traditional frontcourt. My biggest concern is that the Raptors were among the worst teams in terms of defensive efficiency after a turnover last year, and they figure to be a higher-turnover team this time around. All told, I definitely think they can reach league average on defense, but I’m not sure they have upside far into the top 10.

3. The Raptors were once again an elite offense, despite historically limited assist numbers. It seems they can be a top-10 unit at that end in their sleep. In the regular season, that is. They’re talking up changes on that end of the floor to inject some ball movement and more 3-point shooting. How confident are you they’ll actually change and not just revert to the team they’ve been the last three or four years?

William Lou: They’ve definitely on their best behavior in training camp but let’s revisit this after their early season west coast swing. Every team shares the ball and trusts the system when they’re rolling, but what happens when they hit adversity? What happens when they’re on the road in San Antonio two weeks into the season and Ibaka’s jumper is off. Will DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry be tempted to take over? That’s when we’ll see if they’ve truly been sold in a meaningful way.

Matt Shantz: I was among the many fans that made “culture change” jokes when learning the core and coaching staff would remain the same. With that said, I’m a believer after watching preseason. It will take time to perfect, but I’m roughly 75% confident that they stick with this new focus.

Vivek Jacob: I can see them staying committed to the new plan for at least three quarters. What is most curious to me is whether they will revert back in fourth quarters of close games or where they’re trailing. In some ways, I’m glad there’s a six-game West coast road trip early on so we can get a good gauge of how committed they are to their process when the chips are down.

Louis Zatzman: Having just written a few articles about this, the Raptors’ offense does indeed look different. I’ve watched every pre-season game maybe four times, which will make my eyes bleed whether it’s good basketball or bad. Change is almost always incremental in life, and the Raps will undoubtedly spend some time over the course of the season relying too heavily on their elite isolation scoring (not a disastrous shot, as long as DeMar is taking it). However, I am confident that the Raps will have a more diverse offensive repertoire come playoff time.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Pass me the rose colored glasses and cite me for fan bias – but I believe. Clearly this will be an ongoing work in progress. Perhaps the Raptors preseason assists per game showcase this best. In two outings Toronto garnered 15 and 18 assists, but in two others they produced 30 and 31. As for perimeter success I never felt this was their issue. Rather, I think the priority lies in player and ball movement. The youngsters have bought in and the two point guard lineup of Wright and VanVleet offers the weapons for success with the reserve unit. It feels like the Raptors success may be tied to how committed DeMar DeRozan is to the process. Since DeRozan likes to prove his critics wrong I’d err on the side of believing his goal is to showcase growth as a distributor (and on the defensive side of the ball).

Sahal Abdi: Oh, I’m confident. The constant offseason chatter (ignited by Masai Ujiri’s discontent with the offensive philosophy), encouraging reports from training camp and favourable preseason performances have made me a believer. Barring any serious rotational injuries, the Raptors should be an elite offensive team this season.

Joshua Howe: I’m fairly confident they can make the changes they’re so enamoured with—at least during the regular season. A lot will depend upon DeRozan’s shooting (26.6 per cent from three in 2016–17) and how he tackles playing in a modern-style system (more off-ball movement, please!), since, although his usage percentage should go down (34.3 per cent in 2016–17), he’ll still be a focal point of the offense. Once the playoffs hit and the game slows down, that’s where we’ll see if the plan sticks.

Shyam Baskaran: I think we’ll see a difference for sure, at least in the way the system is attempted. I’m not 100% sure the system will work consistently, but I’m pretty confident that the Raptors will do their part in trying consistently. The team has basically openly acknowledged that they’ve relied too much on Kyle and DeMar (or others) as isolation players and that they’ve been the focal point of most offensive schemes. But the early signs this pre-season already show a ton more assists, and way more three-point attempts. The games don’t count yet, but I’ll take it.

Alex Gres: While preseason has its caveats, it showed the Raptors can play differently. Ujiri is the unquestionable head of the organization, and he mandated this change, leaving everyone below him in the hierarchy no choice but to follow through. If Ujiri wills it, it comes true. So yes, I believe they’ll make a concerted effort to overhaul their instincts throughout the regular season, with the hope that the muscle memory built over an 82-game season will serve them well when adversity hits in the postseason.

Katie Heindl: Proof’s in the pudding, y’all, and so far the pudding has a lot of ball movement. And predicting 3s for the Raptors is sort of like trying to call the weather so far this fall. Just like you make sure to layer, so should Casey put some onus on rebounds around the rim, just in case.

Scott Hastie: I’m an 8/10 for confidence here. Early signs point to the leaders buying into this, and ball movement has a way of snowballing. If the team sees early results, we’ll stick with the changes.

Tim Chisholm: I wrote about this at the start of the preseason, but it is very hard to change habits. Like, exceptionally hard. If the team starts to struggle this season, either during a game or through a bad stretch of games, it’s hard to see Lowry and DeRozan not reverting back to the one-on-one act that made them All-Stars. That’s how their wired. Plus, there have been many seasons where the Raptors looked like gangbusters to start, and once teams learned their new systems and scouted them, the team struggled to adapt to opposing team’s adjustments. I fear that this may be a repeat of those early success/late failure scenarios.

Blake Murphy: Can I classify myself as cautiously optimistic? I genuinely believe that DeRozan possesses the capacity for change in this regard, that Lowry has always been a more flexible offensive piece than the offensive system has shown, and that the players around them will benefit from greater trust, confidence, and involvement. I think they’ll bounce into the low-20s for assist percentage ranking (up from 30th), and while there’s not a ton of shooting, they can be passable with more open attempts. The reason I’m not all the way in is that I’d like to see how the team responds to adversity before believing – if the offense sputters for a couple of games or the 3-point shooting hits a valley, will the new paradigm persist, or will they revert to their old selves? (To be clear, the actual offense will be somewhere between the last three years and what they looked like in the preseason; it’s not meant as a 48-minute, 100-possession overhaul.) Again, I’m confident, it could just take some time.

4. The Raptors 905 experiment has been an unquestioned success in its first two years. Have those successes – at the team and player level – increased your interest in the team for their third season? (Please, someone help.)

William Lou: The 905 are well-coached thanks to Jerry Stackhouse but with all due respect, interest in the G-League will always be determined by the NBA prospects that hone their craft there. Who is that player who can be graduated this year? Anyone who watched Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright playing in the 905 knew they could be confidently promoted. Who is that guy this year? Do you want to see another year of Bruno Caboclo giving deeply uneasy performances that Stackhouse has tell lies about? I don’t.

Matt Shantz: Watching young players develop is one of the areas of NBA basketball that I’ve always found the most fascinating, and for that reason I’ve likely been unreasonably interested in the 905. Hoping for Bruno, getting early glimpses of Norm, and watching Pascal finish as the D-League Finals MVP, the only thing that can increase my interest in the 905 would be if OG spends the entire season there.

Vivek Jacob: Mississauga represent! The 905 has provided a chance to watch guys like Norman Powell, Delon Wright, etc. for extended stretches at a relatively inexpensive cost instead of riding the pine with the parent club. With the Raptors commitment to those youngsters this season, I can see why some may lose interest in the 905. However, those people know not the entertainment value Jerry Stackhouse brings to the table. Watching the enthusiasm an 18-year NBA veteran brings to the sidelines is pure joy, and while there may not be the same level of intrigue from a player perspective, the development of Stackhouse into an NBA head coach (seems inevitable) if you’re into learning the finer points of the game, is definitely worth keeping tabs on. Alfonzo McKinnie figures to get some run with the squad, and should be the most compelling player in the fold.

Louis Zatzman: I am so interested in the 905 this season that I’ll be covering a handful of games for RR. Can’t wait! Seriously, there’s some awesome talent down there: just look at Alfonzo McKinnie’s pre-season for an example.

Tamberlyn Richardson: Yes, if for no other reason than to witness Jerry Stackhouse coax and cajole Bruno Caboclo into a viable, varsity-ready NBA player. Just one season under Stack delivered palpable growth. And, whenever I begin to wonder about Bruno’s ceiling I remind myself the top rookies last season Malcolm Brogdon, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid are approximately 3, 1.5 and 1.6 years older than Bruno respectively.

Sahal Abdi: Absolutely. Truthfully, I didn’t watch much of the inaugural season of the 905. Last season, I followed them a fair amount. The NBADL (or now, G League) Championship victory from the squad really peaked my interest. I was genuinely excited for guys like Pascal Siakam, Fred Van Vleet and the hometown kid, Brady Heslip. Them boys did work!

Joshua Howe: All hail Brady Heslip! The success of the Raptors 905 has been a joy to take in. Having such a space for player development is an integral part of cultivating young talent and ultimately improving upon the future of the parent team. Raptors management knows what they’re doing—if you want to create and sustain a winning culture, you need to plan for years down the road as well as for the immediate future. Masai has shown a great understanding of this during his time with the franchise, and the Raptors 905 is a key example.

Shyam Baskaran: Absolutely. The 905 have always been interesting for me, but the real question for me is: can Bruno finally graduate from that school of learning? The team has done wonders for guys like Norm and Siakam, but I’m just hoping Bruno won’t have to see consistent time down there again this year. Either way, I’m definitely interested in watching the games.

Alex Gres: Only a little bit, mostly because I was already committed to following their exploits. It was fun watching Siakam play the Ibaka 2.0 role for the 905, to see VanVleet and Bruno get meaningful basketball repetitions as the club were crowned champions. Still, the transition from success in the G-League to doing it in the NBA is far from smooth, as Bruno’s development continues to show.

Katie Heindl: My interest is in how and when does Stackhouse sell the farm and start coaching in the big city, baby. 905 is also probably the only way losers and layman can afford to sit courtside and I highly recommend it for the bar ICEBREAKERS across the street.

Scott Hastie: Sure. The G-League is great for learning about what makes players successful and improving your own ability to scout the game.

Tim Chisholm: No, not really. Like I said last year, there is too much good NBA basketball to digest before dipping into the minor leagues.

Blake Murphy: I think it’s pretty well known by now that I have a love for not only the G-League but for the stories that the players at that level are living. Writing about DeRozan and Lowry will always be fun because they are exceptional basketball humans, but my favorite stories I’ve written over the last two years have unquestionably been about the Axel Toupanes and Alfonzo McKinnies, guys on the doorstep of living out their NBA dreams and trying to find the one thing that can push them there. (I’m also a massive believer in the importance of a strong player development system under the new collective bargaining agreement.) Anyway, yes, the 905 are awesome, the games are a lot of fun, I enjoy covering them, and the G-League is my own Homage to Catalonia, which will see me die by way of an errant Kennedy Meeks pass to the head.

5. Norman Powell was one of the initial 905 success stories, graduating to a more meaningful role with the parent club last year. Now, there are no wings blocking his path to 26-32 minutes a night. Is he a Most Improved Player candidate? Sixth Man? (Or should he start?) What are your expectations for Powell in Year Three?

William Lou: I expect Powell to become more consistent and adjust to playing consistent minutes. Some nights Powell would come in with a scoring attitude and take a step back on defense, and some nights he went all-out on defense and stood around in the corner on offense. Finding some kind of balance where he knows what to do on offense, how he can assert himself, and when he can just be a role player for the team would be a huge win this season.

Matt Shantz: I have to believe that Two Legs (CJ) will be in the Bench Dad role when the season starts, and would actually jump at odds for him to win Sixth Man for that reason. For Norm this means a starting role, and while I expect big improvements I don’t anticipate any end of season player award for him.

Vivek Jacob: I fully expect Norman Powell to start. While that was the hope during the offseason, the preseason success of C.J. Miles off the bench has made this a no-brainer for me. There is MIP potential, and he’ll probably have to average at least 15 points, 4+ boards, 1.5+ steals, 1.5+ threes to be in the conversation. Powell should thrive in a starting role, where I feel he’s best suited playing off Lowry and DeRozan and focusing on defense. I’d like to see him show improved decision-making on the drive, and better finishing around the rim when he does go all the way. I went into more detail about him at BBallBreakdown, so I’ll leave it at that.

Louis Zatzman: Norman Powell is not a 6th man candidate, as all stats seem to point to him being seriously inefficient when he is the first option of an offense. He is best as a slasher, spot-up shooter, and creator as the 4th option. He should start! C.J. Miles’ shooting will be devastating no matter if its Lowry or Delon Wright passing him the ball in the corner. I expect Powell to average 12-14 points per game and contribute to winning end-game lineups. He probably won’t garner any award buzz, though.

Tamberlyn Richardson: I went on the record early saying Powell would get the start over CJ Miles. Then I vacillated seeing benefit to either of them in either role. But, now I’m back to my original assessment. I love the tangible results of CJ playing with the reserves (or as Blake so perfectly appointed him “Dad of the youthful second unit). Whoever ends up as the reserve player between Powell and Miles will have a good shot at winning Sixth Man. For Powell to be in the conversation for Most Improved he’ll need to produce on both ends.To that end, his points will be there with the minutes, but a successful season would witness growth in assists, rebounds, steals and forced turnovers.

Sahal Abdi: I might be in the minority but I want Powell to be a 6th man in the Raptors rotation. The preseason showed that CJ Miles looks extremely comfortable off the bench and enjoys leading the younger guys on the floor. I just can’t get over what an awesome fit CJ’s catch-and-shoot ability would be beside DeRozan and the rest of the starters. Norm gets enough minutes at 6th man, and he’s a guaranteed candidate for the award. Dude is NOT playing around this season (or ever, really).

Joshua Howe: I could definitely see Norm becoming a Most Improved candidate as well as a Sixth Man candidate. In my player preview for him, I mentioned that Sixth Man is what he should be aiming for. He’s the one player coming off the bench who can create his own shot and therefore have scoring explosions that no one else in the second unit can produce. With that new extension locked in, it’s time for Norm to break out.

Shyam Baskaran: The “should he start” question for right now is a bit irrelevant, since I think Casey will probably tinker with a couple of lineups early in the season, especially if something isn’t working. I think the important question is whether we’ll see Norm finish games with 25+ minutes a night. Personally, I think we will see him in many small-ball lineups to close games where Ibaka is at the 5. I could definitely see him as either MIP or 6th man, but that would probably require him to up his scoring to at least 14 points-per-game or higher, and play a diversified game supplemented with passing and rebounding, which I haven’t really seen from him yet.

Alex Gres: It looks like he is going to draw the start on opening day, which makes sense in my opinion. He was a terrific compliment to the rest of the starting lineup last season, despite some terrifying defensive assignments. With that said, the MIP award is a distinct possibility, as the rest of the league may still not be wholly aware of what Norm is capable of.

Katie Heindl: Of course he should start! And I hope preseason lineups are an indication that the reg season might get some good switch ups here and there. As hard-nosed and sometimes useless the rhetoric around “earning it” can be, there’s no doubt that Powell hasn’t earned everything coming to him this year. He’s only gonna get better.

Scott Hastie: MIP is ambitious because I don’t think he’ll get the touches, but he’s a guy that people will mention as an “x-factor” come playoff time. I hope the team gives Powell the reigns for the bench offence and he uses that athleticism to cram on dudes once a week.

Tim Chisholm: I don’t think Powell is the kind of player that we should look at as a potential award winner. He’s a very solid wing that has to demonstrate that he can perform with big minutes every night. He isn’t going to score the kinds of points that you need to win Sixth Man, and Most Improved almost always goes to an already good player that made a leap. A reasonable expectation for Powell is that he is a strong two-way compliment to Toronto’s expensive core.

Blake Murphy: I was maybe 60/40 in favor of Miles starting and Powell coming off the bench, with my logic being that the second unit could use Powell’s attack mentality, and that he’d have a legitimate shot at a Sixth Man bid because his usage rate would be in the high-20s when Lowry and/or DeRozan were on the bench. It only took a handful of preseason games to be reminded of the value of spacing (and #veteranpresents) on the second unit, and to see how much easier the game might be on offense for Powell as a fifth option (not to mention he can focus more of his energy on defense, where he wasn’t particularly consistent last year). I’m not sure what role is ultimately best for him as a growing individual. I’m fairly certain he’ll be good in either, though any award candidacy will probably be hurt by a high-teens usage as a starter. Norm’s good.

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