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Game 3 Mailbag: Lines of best fit, ref vetoes, and more

A couple Qs to kill a Friday afternoon.

I did an AMA over at r/TorontoRaptors yesterday, and while I think we probably covered everything that we could possibly cover, it’s early Friday afternoon, it’s still hours before Game 3, and it’s too early to drink. So The Blake Murphy Open Challenge is back. The primary reason is that there was one really good question from the AMA I wanted to give proper space to. There was also a part of me that wanted to uphold a pseudo tradition – the last few years I’ve done panic-stricken early-series mailbags after bad losses, to the point that I actually had one such panic mailbag penciled in to our playoff content schedule just in case. This one figures to be far less panicky.

We’ll try to slot these in whenever our panic calls for it during the postseason.  You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here. You can ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag Twitter, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between (unfortunately, it’s too much to keep track of Qs from the comments, so Twitter/email is preferred).

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 TwitterFacebook, and Instagram for all of my writing/podcasting/radio/whatever stuff. Validate me.

Alright, let’s do this.

AMA question, from u/nantea: Hey Blake- extremely important question for you: Can you please assign a Death Cab song to each member of the Raptors team and also give your justifications for those choices?

This was a great question and also a really difficult one. It was difficult primarily for two reasons: One, Death Cab have an unrelenting volume of songs that are far too sexual to apply to the Raptors; Two, the rest are pretty sad and too many of the Raptors stories are upbeat and an ill fit. Still, we tried, although to combat the sadness and horniness of all of the songs, we’re just going with “Death Cab lyrics as Raptors” instead of full song. I called in Jake Goldsbie to help me out, and here’s what we were able to come up with, the Toronto Raptors….Lines of Best Fit. (All credit to Jake for that one.)

Dwane Casey/The Raptors – The New Year (“Let’s make believe that we are wealthy for just this once…There’d be no distance that could hold us back. So this is the new year.”)

Kyle Lowry – Company Calls (“’ll take the best of your bad moods and dress them up to make a better you”)

DeMar DeRozan – We Laugh Indoors (“This city is my home…So I breed thicker skin and let my lustrous coat fill in…No one’s ever been here, so you can quell those wet fears.”)

OG Anunoby – For What Reason (“This won’t be the last you hear from me, it’s just the start.”

Serge Ibaka – No Joy in Mudville (“Last night I dreamt that I was you. I was dressed all in black with dark glasses and attitude. Such a pose I could simply not hold, through days in a northern town that I had once called a home.”)

Jonas Valanciunas – Expo ‘86 (“Sometimes I think this cycle never ends. We slide from top to bottom and we turn and climb again.”)

Fred VanVleet if he leaves – Someday You Will Be Loved (“I cannot pretend that I feel any regret, ‘cause each broken heart will eventually mend.”)
Fred VanVleet if he stays – Stay Young, Go Dancing (“I’m renewed, oh how I feel like through autumn’s advancing, we’ll stay young, go dancing.”)

Delon Wright – Soul Meets Body (“A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere.”)

C.J. Miles – Passenger Seat (“When you feel embarrassed, then I’ll be your pride. When you need directions, then I’ll be the guide.”)

Pascal Siakam & Jakob Poeltl – Marching Bands of Manhattan (“I wish we could open our eyes to see in all directions at the same. Oh what a beautiful view.”)

Norman Powell – Line of Best Fit (“Cutthroat, cut out candid glimpses, and wind me up, I’m ready.”)

Lucas Nogueira – I Will Follow You Into the Dark (“Just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark.”)

Malachi Richardson – The Sound of Settling (“And I’ll sit and wonder of every love [Bruno] that could have been.”)

Lorenzo Brown, Alfonzo McKinnie, Malcolm Miller – No Room in Frame (“And I guess it’s not a failure we could help, and we’ll both go on to get lonely with someone else…Was I in your way when the cameras turned to face you? No room in frame for two.”)

It’s been a blast, truly. I’m still stressing about adjustments and matchups, though. It sounds cliched or like a Dwane Caseyism, but the series is one bad game from feeling really close again. Toronto hasn’t had a great answer for Mike Scott, hasn’t been playing it’s ideal rotations, might still be down Fred VanVleet, and so on. Plus, the Wizards have the kind of high-end talent that can quickly render 2-0 moot. Still, it’s a much more comfortable place to be in, and I’ve really appreciated getting to write a few playoff stories from a different angle (a positive one) instead of writing about panic and Playoff Raptors again. And more than anything, I think Raptors fans deserve to finally trust a bit that their team is good without everyone getting jokes off. The timeline has been much healthier the last week.


If the Wizards pull this off mid-series, I will be pretty worried.

Longer-term, that would be a hell of a risk for both sides but is an interesting challenge trade. San Antonio would be taking on a huge extension for a player coming off of knee surgery, while the Wizards would be taking on a flight risk and dealing their franchise player. I think it’s probably a case where both sides say no but think long and hard about it. Very interesting idea.

Ha. I referred to Miles as the “sexy blogger signing” in a piece today and didn’t know if anyone would get it. For those unaware, the draft broadcast was perplexed at the love for OG Anunoby and called him the “sexy blogger pick” because Draft Twitter had him near the top 10 and people like me were laughing at the idea of having the good fortune for him to hypothetically slip to 23. Similarly, when I did a breakdown of potential free agents for the Raptors to use their mid-level on at the start of the summer, Miles was right around the cutoff and I wrote something akin to “this is probably wishful thinking but maybe his market won’t be as robust as it should be.” And here we are.

This cuts two ways, though. It’s nice to have identified targets the Raptors also thought highly of and who have had success. It makes me a little more confident I’m not (always) talking out of turn. At the same time, if either of those things didn’t pan out, I’d have to wear it. For example, I was in favor of the Norman Powell extension, and while I still believe in the logic behind it (he and Josh Richardson were statistically similar, signed an identical deal, and Richardson might make All-Defense and be Miami’s second-best player, so you can see how it could have worked), it doesn’t look like sharp analysis a few months later. For now, though, having Anunoby and Miles is awesome – Anunoby looks like a legitimate steal we’ll be talking about for years, and Miles has fit in pretty perfectly with the second unit and off the court.

I definitely think the play of the bench has overshadowed just how good the starters have been this year. The starters played together far more as a group and rolled teams to the tune of a double-digit net rating on the year, which is really hard to do over heavy minutes. They had ups and downs, especially with their defense, but there was never once a time where I thought that a change needed to be made to that group, which is kind of incredible over such a long stretch of time. Short of Anunoby’s slump at the top of 2018 and Ibaka’s for most of March, they’ve cruised.

In terms of ranking the fifth starter (Anunoby for the time being) compared to other teams, it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges given role and everything like that. I will say that I wouldn’t trade Anunoby for any of the names you listed, even though Anunoby isn’t better than some of them in his present-day form. Anunoby is going to be really good. And I think Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas get a little underrated, too, given some of the narrative they’ve played within the last year and how much attention has gone to the bench. The Raptors’ depth is a huge advantage, but their best or starting five match up really well with most teams, too.

Marc Davis, and I don’t think it’s all that close. A lot of referees have reputations and some have statistical tendencies/biases that can be exploited, but Davis is probably the referee I trust the least with keeping a game in frame and not letting things escalate or devolve. Davis once placed third in a poll for worst refs (hi, Scott Foster), so even if he grades out as neutral statistically (and he mostly does, maybe with a slight road-team tilt), I have no interest in watching him try to manage a physical playoff game with any consistency.

I think it’d be fine either way, but it’s a little early to worry about it. There’s still a lot of Wizards series left to play. Say the Raptors win in 4 or 5, that’s a few extra days for VanVleet to get healthy and a few extra rest days for the team’s older pieces (Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka, Miles) to make sure they’re 100 percent as their minutes get ramped up in round two. I probably lean toward the side of there being such a thing as too much time off, but so long as they’re starting the next series within four or five days – the league has the option to start second-round games as early as April 28, though they’re currently slated to start April 30 – it’ll be fine. The much bigger factor, to me, would be if Cleveland has to play six or seven to get there and Toronto isn’t getting a completely fresh Cleveland team while they’re exhausted for the first time.

What’s encouraged me most is that Vegas shifted their odds such that the Raptors are now the favorites to come out of the East. I don’t care about it from a respect or narrative perspective or anything, but in recent years as we talked ourselves into Toronto’s chances, the people with a financial stake didn’t really budge much. A lot more goes into the line-setting than just straight likelihood of winning, but I don’t think Vegas is priming themselves to lose money on a Cavaliers victory unless their modeling suggests there’s a good balance here. All of that is to say that any localized Raptors hype or excitement has spread beyond the Toronto sphere.

Outside of that, nothing Cleveland has done changes much for me – they’re now starting a more optimal starting five that’s really hard to match up with, but they can’t defend anyone, and while LeBron James can be full LeBron James and win games himself, he has to do that. None of that is new. They’re still dangerous because James is the best player in the world and he’s surrounded with shooters. They can beat teams without defending, and any Toronto/Cleveland pick is probably going to be in six or seven games. They are who we think they are, and that’s nothing to gloss over.

Indiana has been a really fun story and they do a lot of things well that can carry over to a playoff environment. The Raptors are significantly better.

It’ll be a shared responsibility between Anunoby, Ibaka, and Siakam. Putting Miles on him is probably asking for trouble – some have suggested starting Miles and just trying to score 140 with them, but it’d be really tough to start DeRozan and Miles together and not get lit up – and the other three can be mixed and matched to vary his looks and limit the amount of switching the Raptors have to do. Siakam was probably the guy I was most comfortable with on James just anecdotally in the regular season and the individual scoring numbers back that up, though the Cavs as a team scored least efficiently with Anunoby on him. Some of the assignments will depend on who the Cavs start, too (Raptors fans should be hoping they either start a natural center or start Jeff Green) and how much cross-matching the Raptors have available to them. I don’t think Casey needs to change his starting lineup, but he’s going to have to be ready for a lot of in-game adjusting based on how things go. Luckily, Anunoby has looked awesome the last few weeks.

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.