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Raptors Republic Chat: Preseason and Beyond

Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Some rambling before the real games start.

Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images
In this chat, we discuss at length, apologies in advance, thoughts on the preseason, how to be excited for the regular season, Jimmy Butler, Bengay, and whether Kawhi Leonard is a shoe-in for MVP.I should mention that the idea comes from 538, whose politics chats are awesome. Transcript below lightly edited.

Louis Zatzman:

What’s up guys? I want to do a little preseason-looking-back and a little-season-looking-forward. But let’s start simple.

Hot takes from preseason?

Sam Holako:

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

That we are going to massively overpay Siakam when his contract is getting handed out.

Delon too.

Louis:

lol. For having such a clean cap sheet in 2020 / 2021, the Raps could easily just pay all their bench guys 7-8 figures and cap out right there. That’s one possible future, for sure

Sam:

Exactly, Louis! That’s my biggest fear.

Anthony Doyle:

I don’t think I have any hot takes from preseason. The Raptors are good, and, despite all rumors, extremely drama free.

Louis:

You don’t see Lowry as drama?

Anthony:

No. Lowry has always been surly. I’m not worried about him at all.

Sam:

Me neither; that edge he brings is so necessary

Joshua Howe:

No reason to worry about Lowry. That’s being overblown.

Louis:

So what you’re saying is he should cuss everyone out in practice and have a special with Rachel Nichols after?

Anthony:

Here’s an actual hot take: I loved what Jimmy did.

Sam:

Go to practice, rip on everyone, get showered and dressed then head to Rachel for a nicely setup interview?

I bet he cost himself money on his next contract; would be surprised if he got the full max.

Louis:

Jimmy Butler seems like the California version of Lowry.

Sam:

He’s a dick.

Joshua:

Jimmy’s shenanigans were very honest, at least. Perhaps not professional, but honest—which is something fans always seem to be desiring from athletes.

Anthony:

If Jimmy Butler hadn’t known that he could call the media, set it up for him to go to practice, clown those guys, yell at them, have them not confront him and then do the interview, there never would’ve been an issue in the first place. He did that because the fact that he could do that was his issue with the team.

Sam:

Love it as a spectator, but not as someone to have on the inside.

Louis:

My point in bringing it up, tho, is that if you don’t want that on the inside of Toronto, would you not have a little issue with Lowry’s apparent surliness?

Getting kicked out of a preseason game is really not a good look.

Sam:

There is a difference of degrees imho.

Joshua:

I don’t think it’s nearly to that degree.

Sam:

Joshua is my spirit animal.

Anthony:

Also, I think in order to win a title in the NBA, you need a guy on your team who is willing to be a dick sometimes.

I’m actually writing about Lowry’s media handling in a piece coming out, so I’ve spent some time on this. I think Lowry is just a hyper-competitive guy in a tough spot, because if he errs too much towards being too annoyed or too happy, he risks making life difficult for either his current teammates or his best friend. So he’s taking it on himself instead.

Louis:

It’s easy to forget about the personal aspect.

Anthony:

If Lowry came out tomorrow and said “I love this team, this is my favorite Raptors team I’ve ever played for.”, what are the first 10 questions DeRozan gets in media scrums the next day?

Joshua:

Honestly, I think Lowry’s done a really good job with handling the media so far. How’d you feel about those Media Day questions? All of them were about DeRozan and his feelings … Very pokey and proddy. Rather unsettling.

Sam:

He’s been consistent with the media these last few years.

Multiple things can be true about Lowry at the same: he’s upset how DeMar got handled, but he’s happy with the current team. The fact that the media asks him stupid questions about that is irritating for even me.

Louis:

Here’s a hot take from preseason, that I’m sure is totally reasonable and not an overreaction at all: Fred Van Vleet is absolutely incredible and should probably be starting / closing every game. He’s already a star and the third-best player on the team.

Anthony:

I’ll get hot-takish here, too. Fred VanVleet is a top 50 player in the NBA. But he shouldn’t be starting, because he’s too valuable off the bench.

Sam:

WHOA.

Love FVV, but are we sure he’s not a better version of TJ Ford?

Without the explosiveness?

Joshua:

Damn, guys. I dunno if I’m awake enough for these scorching takes yet.

Anthony:

In Jacob Goldstein’s predictive PIPM rankings for the 2018-19 season, FVV is ranked 40th. In the league.

Louis:

He just moves so well without the ball, Curry-level awareness. He gets so open for so many shots.

The offence just always looks so good with him out there.

Also, TJ Ford probably fought Calderon the longest for that starting job. People forget, but he put up a better fight than Lowry / George Hill / anyone.

Sam:

I remember, Louis…I remember…always love TJ which is why I HATE Horford to this day

Will never forgive him.

I’m a grumpy old man; I know this.

Anthony:

My preferred closing lineup is Lowry, Fred, Kawhi, OG and Jonas, but obviously, on this roster, there’s so much versatility that you can modify that for matchups as needed.

Louis:

I like Lowry and Fred playing more minutes together. All the minutes.

Anthony:

And they can both guard above their position, so it’s not actually defensively as small as it looks.

Joshua:

I think I’m with you on that group, Anthony. And you could shift things around a bit with Green if necessary.

Sam:

They both do a nice job defending the post given their size.

Hot take: Nurse finishes top 3 for COY.

I’m predicting 63-65 wins, Kawhi DPOY, 1st in East…that has to count for something.

Joshua:

I could see that happening, Sam. Raps a top-two team in the East with a rookie coach? A good narrative could spawn out of that.

Sam:

That’s all these awards are.

Except DPOY, that seems to be less about narrative.

Anthony:

I think if the Raptors win more than 60, Kawhi is pretty much a lock for MVP. The narratives of the comeback from injury and embracing Toronto will deliver it for him.

Joshua:

I’m not very good at hot takes, because I live life temperate, but let me try: Never play Ibaka at center with the starters again! … Okay, maybe not ever again, but I think it’s pretty clear that, most nights, Valanciunas should be the starting five. The Brooklyn game really solidified that for me.

Anthony:

I’m with you there, Josh. I’m a big believer that Serge is going to have a bounce back year, but, Jonas is so much better than people give him credit for, and the improved perimeter defense also removes a lot of the defensive concerns with Jonas, while his screening and post game helps offensively. He should be the starter.

And, Ibaka coming off the bench helps keep his minutes down, which, as we saw last year in March, becomes a problem when he plays too much.

Sam:

We agree he’s like 35 right?

Takes inflammation medication.

Bengay.

Joshua:

Yeah, agreed. I mean, Ibaka can even take nights off this season during some of the tougher stretches and TOR could just run Monroe with the bench unit, since he thinks he can slide right in anyway.

Anthony:

I don’t know if I buy that he’s actually that old, but his joints certainly are, at least.

Sam:

Don’t understand how a 27-year-old in the shape he’s in can’t play a normal schedule without looking like me after 60 minutes of low level pickup ball.

Louis:

Ibaka does a lot of high level things, but the boneheaded shots and travels will always stand out. And that’s got to be a stamina thing, right?

Joshua:

That inbounds play a couple games ago where he turned the ball over … Woof.

Sam:

High level things for two games, then nothing for two.

Anthony:

I’m not sure it’s stamina. I think he might just be the type of player who you want to keep in a fairly controlled role, where he’s doing the things he can do and not trying to do the things he can’t. Last year the Raptors asked him to do a lot of things he shouldn’t be doing.

Joshua:

That’s true. They asked too much of him. They asked for him to produce to the level of his contract rather than his actual ability.

Sam:

What exactly?

Defend the rim? Corner 3s? Pick n roll defense?

Anthony:

He was asked to cover too much ground defensively, for one. The Raptors perimeter defense was too porous last year, and Ibaka isn’t the type of defender who can clean up all mistakes all the time. But he will try to, and those efforts often created more problems than they solved.

Sam:

He goes for broke too often.

I’m Skip Bayless cranky atm…my bad.

Joshua:

One thing Ibaka does do: Stretch the floor. That could be fun for the Bench Mob, who had a more traditional center in Poeltl last season. Gives the other guys more space, which could be especially valuable for someone like Siakam, who’s gonna be handling the ball more.

Louis:

Siakam is gonna have so much more space at the rim this year on his surprise drives.

Sam:

Also, Joshua, I like Ibaka/Siakam together.

Bit frantic, but it’s interesting.

Louis:

So we’re kind of dancing around it, but it seems like we all agree that the majority-of-the-time lineups should be Lowry-Green-Kawhi-OG-JV with FVV-Delon-Miles-Siakam-Ibaka as the bench?

Sam:

For sure.

Joshua:

Yeah, Louis. I think that should be the basic sketch outline for the majority of the season.

Louis:

Lots of minutes for mixed lineups, or still platoon-style subbing?

Anthony:

I’d like to see more transitional lineups this year, actually.

Sam:

The problem with platoon subbing is during the playoffs, it throws things off. You move to a 8-9 man rotation, which makes it challenging for role definition when you’re used to playing with a certain set of people for most of the season.

Anthony:

Also, platoon subbing can cause issues when an injury happens.

Louis:

So then here’s a lineup I want a lot more of: FVV-Lowry-Kawhi-Siakam-JV

Anthony:

I mean, the Raptors’ four best players are Kawhi, Lowry, Fred and Jonas. They should be playing as many minutes as possible with those four players on the court. That’s pretty straight forward, I think.

Joshua:

I think Louis’ proposed starters / bench is a good starting place. But Nurse has made it pretty clear he’s going to be fluid with rotations—things aren’t going to be as black and white, starters and bench, as last season.

Need to have guys achieving chemistry all over.

Louis:

So here’s the thing about the regular season.

I don’t think Nurse will challenge for CoTY or Leonard for MVP because the Raps will probably win 55-59 games, as so much of the regular season will be spent experimenting and learning what works, so that they’ll be ready for the playoffs.

Which means, how much does the regular season matter, which we’ve asked every year.

Basically.

Bengay

wait

not that

Sam:

LOL

Bengay matters

For Ibaka at least

Anthony:

LOL

Louis:

The past few years, seasons have been completely defined by the postseason. It’s tiring not to be able to care about the regular season. Has that changed this year?

Sam:

This is the first regular season I’ve cared about in a couple years.

Anthony:

I agree that there will be lots of experimentation, Louis, but I disagree on the results. I think these Raptors are actually so talented that they can both experiment, and also win a stupid amount of games. There is going to be plenty of garbage time. They are just that good. I just believe this Raptors team is too talented not to win a lot of games. I think a staggering number of things have to go wrong just for them to end up as low as 50 wins.

Louis:

So then, question for everyone: What’s the floor for this team, regular season-wise?

Sam:

58 wins.

Anthony:

I see the floor as 50 wins, but like I said, that requires a lot to go wrong.

Sam:

50 wins would be a disaster imho.

The calls of Kawhi to LA would be deafening.

Joshua:

The floor … I’ll put it around 55 wins. But I think they snag around 60–62.

Anthony:

The ceiling I have at about 65-67 wins. I don’t think there’s any way it gets higher than that.

Sam:

How many times do we play Orlando/Atlanta?

Joshua:

I also have the ceiling as 65.

Anthony:

If the Raptors get above 60 wins, there’ll be a lot of rest games at the end of the year.

Sam:

Good.

Get him rest in February and end of season.

Him being both Lowry and Leonard.

So we are all going over on the 58.5 Vegas has the team at, it seems?

Anthony:

I have already put my money where my mouth is on that one, Sam.

Joshua:

Kawhi’s career-high is 43 points, I believe. Does he break that this season?

Sam:

He breaks it against the Spurs.

Joshua:

I can’t wait for that game.

Anthony:

I think I’m going to feel really bad for DeMar when the Raptors play the Spurs. He’s going to want to go off, but this Raptors team is perfectly built to defend his game.

Joshua:

(Same, Anthony. I’m already feeling bad about it.)

Sam:

Can we go back to Jimmy?

If a deal were on the table that would cost us one of FVV or OG, you in?

Louis:

Yes.

Sam:

And would getting Jimmy give us a chance against Celtics/Warriors?

Anthony:

No. Not giving up either of them. Not because I don’t believe in Jimmy, but because I believe in those guys a lot.

Sam:

Err, we have a chance against Celtics now, but would we be clear favourite?

Warriors I’d be hoping for a win or two, even with Jimmy.

Joshua:

Toronto would definitely be the favourite against the Celtics, but not against the Dubs.

Anthony:

Also, I already think we’re better than the Celtics without Jimmy, and, if healthy, can have a shot against the Warriors in a series. Won’t be the favorites, but wouldn’t be a “happy to be there” finalist.

Joshua:

Man, if people think trying to get Kawhi to re-sign is a test for the culture, imagine bringing in Jimmy. Lol. Two top-10 guys on expiring deals, neither of which had/have stated that Toronto was/is an ideal landing place.

Louis:

Final question.

We seem to have pretty unfiltered adoration of this new roster. But how did last season not break your heart? How are we all so obviously juiced to watch a team that, with a few changes, just puked on themselves to end the season?

Anthony:

I was frustrated for the first part of the summer Louis. Said on twitter many times that I wanted a reason to be excited about the Raptors this year. The Kawhi trade gave me that.

It’s not a secret that I was in favor of a trade with DeMar outgoing anyways, after last year’s playoffs, but getting that done and bringing back a true superstar, a guy who was in the conversation just 18 months ago for being the best player in the world? How could I not be excited?

Joshua:

It would’ve been really difficult to get super jazzed about the same team returning after the way things ended last season. But this team, a 59-win team, whose main flaw in the playoffs was having a star player who kept being exposed defensively over and over, now has Kawhi Leonard, a two-time DPOY and legitimate top-five player. That alone gives me goosebumps.

I love DeRozan, by the way. He’s my guy. I’m gonna support him forever. He had a career season on the floor last year, and he hit a ton of milestones and was a big reason why the team was so fun. I’ll also forever idolize him for his part in the mental health discussion. I hope he kills it with San Antonio.

Anthony:

With DeRozan, I have to separate on the court and off the court. Off the court, he was everything for Toronto, and I appreciate that. Always will. Love what he did for the mental health discussion, as you said Josh.

But Masai Ujiri just keeps finding ways to re-energize the organization.

Joshua:

BUILD THAT MAN A STATUE.

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