RR Mailbag

Game 6 Mailbag: Adjustments, what happens next, sandwiches, and more

There’s something about Friday afternoons this series, or perhaps just something about waiting for road games I’m not on the road for, that feels ripe for a mailbag. Or I just hate myself and cant’ take a few hours off to watch The Greatest Royal Rumble before watching The Greatest Game 6. Either way, here’s a mailbag.

We’ll try to slot these in whenever it 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.

I think so, yeah. The Raptors have a lot of advantages and if they play well, they obviously have every chance to beat the Wizards in Washington. They’re the better team. And while I picked Raptors in 6 initially, this series has flowed a little differently than I expected and it feels like we’re headed for a very anxious Sunday. The Wizards are slight favorites, too, by the way.

I think it’s important for the Raptors that Cavaliers/Pacers goes to a Game 7. Obviously, the Raptors would prefer to wrap things up earlier, get their guys an extra bit of rest, and earn an extra two prep days (negated somewhat by the fact that they’d need to be prepping for two opponents), and that would be really valuable. Forcing LeBron James to do a seventh game of 40 minutes with a grueling workload probably has a greater benefit to them all told, though – James is a cyborg, but theoretically he can get fatigued, and the Raptors have never gotten a crack at him without him having ample rest time before hand. Even if the Pacers don’t win, they’ve done the rest of the Eastern Conference a service. I’d rank the possibilities in the following terms of favorability:

  • Pacers win in 7, Raptors win in 6
  • Pacers win in 7, Raptors win in 7
  • Cavaliers win in 7, Raptors win in 6
  • Cavaliers win in 7, Raptors win in 7
  • Cavaliers win in 6, Raptors win in 6
  • Cavaliers win in 6, Raptors win in 7
  • Cavaliers win in 6 or 7, Wizards win in 7
  • Pacers win in 7, Wizards win in 7

I’m torn on this one, but I think you’d rather take the Pacers if you believe they present an easier path to the next round. I understand the psychological value of being the team to beat LeBron James and avenge the last two postseasons, completely. I also think there’s a small problem with defining your own success entirely by one other specific opponent. That is, if you’d prefer to beat James over have an easier draw, even though that adds additional risk to your ultimate goal of making the NBA Finals, I don’t love what that says. At the same time, the “beat the best on the way” is probably a good, competitive attitude to have. It’s a tough trade-off and I don’t really have a strong opinion. I’d understand wanting the easier path or wanting the narrative value (and validation) of toppling James. I’ve talked myself into and out of both answers while writing this. So: I don’t care, and the Raptors’ attitude should be that they think they’re good enough to deal with whatever comes their way.

(I will say this: If the Raptors came up short of the finals and didn’t face James on the way, that would be a tougher pill than losing to James or toppling James and then losing to someone else.)

For Washington, I think they’ll be looking for a way to counter Jonas Valanciunas’ presence. Valanciunas hasn’t had a huge role in the series overall, but Washington can’t secure offensive rebounds when he’s out there and the Lowry-Valanciunas and DeRozan-Valanciunas pick-and-rolls have both been deadly. At the offensive end, I could see Washington bringing their screens up higher on the floor to force Valanciunas to guard in more space north-to-south and trying to get Wall a head of steam charging down at him, forcing help off the corners. Valanciunas did a great job showing higher in Game 5, and the drop-back scheme would be fine against high Wall screens given his shooting ability, but the more space Wall has to get moving, the deadlier. They could also limit Marcin Gortat’s minutes to see if Mike Scott and Markieff Morris can hurt the Raptors in the pick-and-pop – the one thing that is usually a decent bet to get Casey to give Valanciunas a hook – but that’s a big risk given what Valanciunas has done at the other end. Whatever the tweak, I’d imagine it’s them trying to have Wall bait Casey into taking Valanciunas out.

For the Raptors, I think they’ll go back to their more conservative pick-and-roll defense initially – they’ve been doing well to goad the Wizards into a lot of mid-range shots and very few threes, the Wizards are just shooting really well on that low-efficiency diet – and try to feed Valanciunas again early on. (It’s weird to highlight Valanciunas for both teams, but he swung Game 5 and has the best net rating on the Raptors. He’s important.) I could also see Casey ditching the all-bench minutes in the second half if Fred VanVleet can’t go. The Raptors have kept minutes for DeRozan and Lowry quite reasonable in the series, but in a close-out game, you can’t hold as much back, and the Raptors have been pretty terrible in this series when Lowry sits. Plus, Wall and Beal will probably go well north of 40, and minutes with one or both stars against neither of Toronto’s are very risky.

I am not “32 minutes” confident but I am “more than 15” confident. Casey has some hang-ups with Valanciunas, and it also hinges on his play to at least some degree. He’s been good enough to be playing high-20s minutes in this series and should definitely be in the closing mix, assuming he plays to the same level he has in the series. A plea, regardless: Don’t give Valanciunas a quick hook if he gets into minor foul trouble. Not only does Valanciunas only average four fouls per-36 minutes, it makes little sense to limit a guy with two or even three fouls if the intention is to only play him low-20s minutes and not use him in the fourth.

Not really, no. Game 4 was really disappointing to me because of how it played out late, but I picked the Raptors in 6 and that’s still in play. It’s annoying to keep hearing it said, but Washington is tough by eight-seed standards – I can almost guarantee they would have been a trendy upset pick if they finished one slot higher in the standings, they were projected to sniff 50 wins this year, Wall missed half a season, VanVleet has been out, and so on. Those aren’t really excuses so much as reasonable caveats for evaluating the series. The Wizards are good, and it’s never going to be an easy series when the other team has two of the four best players and depending on your perspective, two of the best three (or if you’re a Wizards fan, two of the best two). If the Raptors were to take care of business on the road here tonight, I don’t think anyone should feel too badly about the series. If it goes seven, it’s definitely in “Raptors made this harder on themselves than necessary” territory. Otherwise, this is something close to what I expected.

They have, yeah. Game 4 stands out as a really big outlier that’s still skewing some of their series-long numbers, but consider:

  • DeRozan usage: Games 1/2/3/5 – 31.1%, Game 4 -46.4%
  • Team assist%: Games 1/2/3/5 – 59.6%, Game 4 – 55.9%
  • % of shots that were 3s: Games 1/2/3/5 – 36.0%, Game 4 – 22.8%

The Raptors are middle-of-the-pack for the playoffs in terms of ball movement, they’ve shared the offensive workload and decisively taken threes in almost every game, and defensively they’ve forced the Wizards into the shot spectrum they want. There’s a ton of room to improve within all of this, of course. You have to defend those shots on the spectrum better, for example, and make sure those inefficient mid-range looks are still contested. They’ve also turned the ball over much more than in the regular season. And you just can’t have games like Game 4 even once in a tough series. For the most part, though, these have looked like the new Raptors. Games 2 and 5, in particular, stand out as great examples of what they hoped to look like in the postseason.

I’d take the over on that, but barely. He played 43 and 44 minutes in the last two games, and that seems like where he’ll settle in if the game is close. He’s simply too important and the Wizards are too scared of playing second-half minutes without either him or Beal, and usually with a second starter, too. There have been times where he’s looked gassed in the second half – hands on knees on offense, uncharacteristic turnovers, etc – and he’s still on the comeback trail by any reasonable timeline of expectations. Even at less than 100 percent or fatigued late, Wall has been something close to the best players in the series and the Wizards aren’t going to risk playing much time without him.

Why have I been getting so many sandwich questions lately? I’m not even a big sandwich guy. Lowry and DeRozan are grilled cheese. Wall and Beal are a Cubano you realize late you don’t have any Swiss for.

The comparison that comes to mind in terms of playoff value out of nowhere was Wesley Matthews. Dude went undrafted and played 37 minutes per-game for the Jazz in the playoffs as a rookie. (Maybe it’s a Jazz thing, given Royce O’Neale’s 2017-18?) Jonathan Simmons was pretty big for the Spurs last year in the playoffs, too, as a second-year G League player made good. It’s fairly rare for a guy to come out of nowhere and be this important, and I can’t think of a good example where a guy was missing after breaking through and his absence was felt, but VanVleet’s already established himself on a pretty short list of unexpected finds who wind up pretty important to the big-picture playoff plans of good teams. Come back soon, man.

The Finals probably isn’t the measuring stick here without the benefit of knowing how it goes down. If the Raptors lost to the Wizards or got completely punked by the Cavaliers in the second round? It’s definitely possible he loses his job, since there wouldn’t be many other pieces you could change to try to get different results in 2018-19 with a roster that will be largely the same. If they go further – giving Cleveland a tough seven-game series, toppling them and losing to Philadelphia, etc – I think the “how” becomes really important for evaluating the job Casey does and whether the team can reasonably expect to continue growing. Casey is likely going to win Coach of the Year and is a really good coach in terms of all of the macro areas a coach needs to be good at for an organization to sustain long-term success. I’d need to see how the micro plays out in a playoff exit before judging his job security beyond that. (And to be clear, I don’t think Casey would deserve to lose his job regardless, it’s just that you hit a certain point where it becomes worth trying something new in that spot because the core is locked in. I’m not sure where, exactly, that line is. I thought it was last summer and was wrong.)

The Raptors will probably see if there’s a market for Ibaka, for sure. They’re going to be in tax hell unless they can move one of Ibaka, Valanciunas, or Powell, and something probably has to give there. I’m skeptical they’ll be able to find a home for Ibaka unless it involves taking a similar contract back – he’s better than he’s shown the last three games (his Games 1 and 2 were great), but he’s only worth his salary in a very context-specific environment, if that. He’s also hitting the wrong part of the big-man aging curve, and if he loses any explosiveness or quickness, his defensive value could decline. I just don’t think there will be many teams wanting two years and $45 million of him unless it’s a sort of challenge trade where it’s two big contracts being flipped for fit purposes.

As for Kawhi Leonard, good god no. Ibaka might end up necessary there for salary matching purposes, but as an asset he doesn’t begin to get you in the Leonard conversation. You’re talking about an MVP-level player for a package built around a moderately overpaid third or fourth piece. You’d need to add a lot to that package and probably find a third team since San Antonio is already paying Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge big money for next year.

I’m not sure if this means jerseys that I have personally owned or just in general. If it’s jerseys I’ve owned, I have a DeMar DeRozan Compton High jersey that’s probably my favorite, and I still have an old Ray Allen Sonics jersey kicking around. If it’s just jerseys I like in general, my favorite Raptors jersey is the original pinstripe, followed closely by last year’s Huskies jerseys. (I actually wrote something about all-time Raptors jerseys earlier in the year.) League-wide, the new Jazz gradient jerseys are probably my favorite from the new wave of jerseys, and my favorite ever is probably the old Hornets teal and purple ones.

Not very far at all. They’re all injured.

What’s going on here? Is this Reynolds’ alt-account? Was Reynolds also doing a Mailbag today? I liked Eastern Promises, and a google search tells me that there were plans for a sequel at some point, but my answer to this and any other movie question is that the only sequel we need is a sequel to Ready to Rumble.

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.

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