Mailbag #1: A New Era of Mailbags, Gasol’s Role, Playoff Rotations and More

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You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers. The #RRMailbag makes it’s return. As a writer who’s been treated to a warm experience from readers, I can’t think of anything better than to do this type of write-up. To all those who had questions, and to everyone who has engaged in meaningful dialogue in the comments, thank you.

Before we kick this off:  We have a Patreon version of the site here at Raptors Republic. Not only will it provide an ad-free service to you, it will help fund all things RR related. If you’re a fan of the content, want to support, and have the means to do so, you can do that here. If you use twitter, you can follow me here, if you so choose. Going forward, use #RRMailbag on twitter, and I’ll make sure those are considered for future mailbags as well.

Okydoke, let’s get into it.

There’s always room for players to burst onto the scene and start stealing a few minutes here and there, but those are usually shooters. Patrick McCaw has had a couple impressive outings since Marc Gasol’s arrival, showing off some serious cutting chops, hitting a jump-shot as the primary ‘pnr’ ball handler and maintaining what we’ve been seeing most of the year with really terrific perimeter defense.

If we use Norman Powell as a template for what a fast-twitch athlete breaking into a series looks like, then there’s one route for McCaw to sneak into the rotation. In the Bucks series, Powell was really great on offense, going 10-11 on triples and operating as a great weak-side attacker as the Bucks aggressively trapped Lowry and DeRozan. That’s not going to be McCaw. However, the Pacers series that Powell turned wasn’t due to his offense in the slightest. He was a pest on defense, throwing a great deal of speed and tenacity at Paul George & Co. If a series shakes out like that, and Powell himself isn’t a factor, look for McCaw to compete on defense and make great cuts on an offense that struggles to score. Is it likely all these things come together? I don’t think so, but that’s the version of a series I see him in. As for Boucher? I don’t think he’ll have a spot. I also don’t expect Lin to have a very big playoff role… Fred VanVleet is a really good bench guard, he’s gonna eat Lin’s minutes as soon as he’s healthy.

I think Nurse has done a good job this year, given that he’s had to juggle a ton of injuries. Has he been a mad scientist on offense, or anything like that? No. There’s still lots of things to be maximized on both ends of the floor and I don’t think he’s been very experimental. It’s also hard to do something that will be considered experimental when two point guard lineups are common, as is the move away from traditional 4’s and 5’s. With that being said, the Pascal Siakam at center line-ups are always fun. Louis Zatzman wrote about that in particular. There was a really fun line-up of Siakam-OG-McCaw-Powell-Lowry that was used against the Hawks, and we could see something like that get a little more play as the season goes on. I think Nurse’s best machinations are ahead of him.

The least successful might be the starting line-up, if you could call that an experiment. Since November 1st, the line-up of Lowry-Green-Leonard-Siakam-Ibaka is barely registering a positive plus-minus (+1.1). That’s kind’ve insane, considering that’s an exceptional collection of players. After their robust start to the year, they’ve been a middling starting five. I mean, the same group with Valanciunas replacing Ibaka rounds out as the third most positive line-up in the league. Considering that Ibaka is better than Valanciunas, something is going wrong with how these players have been utilized the past couple months. Taking Lowry’s slump into consideration doesn’t do enough to displace some damning mediocrity, and there’s a lot to be ironed out before the Raptors roll 5-men onto the court for the ECF tip.

For the record, I am for fluidity. I’m not an NBA player, and as such, have no reverence for their state of mind as it pertains to knowing their day in and day out role. If I had to make the case (provide a take, like you say) I’d suggest a couple things. Like I said above, the starting line-up has been pretty pedestrian since November, I have a feeling that Gasol would make that line-up more effective. Secondly, you might want to try and engineer chemistry between Leonard and a big man. There’s been little indication this year that Leonard and Lowry are doing a great job creating for each-other. For Leonard, a meaningful pairing with a big man might mean more pet plays and easier shots for him going forward. He has the toolset to be formidable in the pick n’ roll and out of DHO’s. A supercharged version of one of Gasol-Leonard or Ibaka-Leonard could be devastating to guard in the postseason.

The inverse is exactly as you put it. There’s a lot of utility in being fluid when other teams have a bevy of options to throw at you. I, like you, would prefer to see Ibaka opposite Giannis in a situation like you mentioned. This opens up a terribly long debate about whether you react to other teams, or force them to react to you. Although, if you have the right guy mixing and matching, the debate is pretty short, they’ll utilize the players properly. Fluid matchups also mean more players will be playing with one another, which I read as a good thing. The Raptors are no stranger to random playoff incompetence, and so, their roster being able to play well with any one of the (presumed) 9-men in the playoff rotation seems like a good thing.

I’m excited to see Gasol start a couple games, and I’ll be expecting good returns. In the face of those good returns, though, I’d like to see Nurse stick to the fluid rotation. The team has a very healthy culture and should be able to withstand any type of animosity over perceived roles. Ibaka has been great this year – I wrote his damn All-Star piece – and it would be a shame to see him lose out on minutes because of obtuse line-up making. As for Gasol, it’s really exciting to have him on this team and opening up new wrinkles in the offense. It’s up to Nurse to maximize their talents.

Bernie Choy and Mike$ also had Gasol questions that partially fall under the umbrella of what I wrote.

I strongly agree. Anunoby’s strength and build is something to behold. His first career basket came when he backed a guy into the post, slammed him on his butt, then dunked with ease. With all that being said, and all the talk there is about small-ball, he’s still small for a power forward. In addition to that, he’s not an incredibly savvy defender, which is why he’s so much better on-ball than off of it. He’s not outmaneuvering big men in the post, and having him contend with significantly larger players for most of his minutes is a big ask. The NBA has this idea of a smaller, faster league, but big men have something to say about that. In his rookie year, we all envisioned Anunoby as a perfect small-ball 4, but it’s not as seamless as we might like.

How do you allow him to play in that role more often? It sounds easy, but it’s not. Siakam is the only de-facto power forward on the team, and when other swingmen share the floor with Anunoby, he still moves up a spot on defense. That means that Anunoby’s minutes as a swingman will only come next to Siakam. The overlap with Siakam is imperative to Anunoby finding his footing in a familiar role. In the 5 games where Anunoby has eclipsed 28 minutes (more overlap with Siakam+starters) he’s averaging 14 points on 56-percent from the floor and 52-percent from downtown (5 attempts per game). It’s clear that he benefits when he gets to play the wing on offense and defense, but also benefits playing next to great players. That way he gets a smaller role that he can really dominate in.

I wrote a pretty in-depth piece about OG earlier this year, and that’s here. Here’s an excerpt: “Anunoby has the tools to insert himself into the pool of players who are often considered for All-NBA defensive teams, most pundits and fans are certain of that. With his physical gifts he’ll always be imposing around the rim as well, and we can only expect that to become more apparent as he gets older. Defense will be the defining narrative of Anunoby’s career, but there’s no reason he can’t become a plus in a few other areas. There’s no reason Anunoby’s offensive game can’t look like the affable Tobias Harris’ a year or two from now.”

I do think he’ll have a spot in the playoff rotation.

Josh Sorhaindo also had a question that should be covered under the umbrella of this answer.

It has to be the Bucks. They have a sky-high net rating (9.6, league-best), they’re elite at closing possessions on their own end (2nd in DRB%), they’re second in the league in both attempts and makes from downtown, and last but not least, they have a larger-than-life superstar who’s game isn’t dependent on a whistle. Giannis is going to be a massive problem in the playoffs, for whoever is across from him. Not to mention the Bucks role-players convert on their catch-and-shoot threes at a significantly higher rate than the Raptors.

The Raptors and Bucks are both elite fast-break teams, but I think the Bucks will have an easier time slowing down Siakam, than the Raptors will have slowing down Giannis. The Raptors have gumption, an MVP candidate of their own, and a lot of talent, they can beat the Bucks, but they’re absolutely the team to worry about. They’ve been incredible this year.

I think that the Toronto Raptors organization has a lot of really intelligent people tracking wear and tear on their players. I have no problems with how they’ve handled the injuries so far, especially Leonard. With that being said, chemistry is real and very important. The Raptors are a very talented team, but not to the point that they can out talent teams in the playoffs. There’s a lot of utility in familiarity in your sets, and understanding your fellow teammates playstyle. It would be really, really nice to take the first seed and guarantee Game 7’s at home, and this might sound stupid, but that could even happen in the NBA FINALS.

Will I be doing any hand wringing? No. I think there are going to be some teams that are really trying to lose toward the end, and I think the Raptors will sniff out opportunities to get these guys some rest down the stretch.

Ry Davis also had a question pertaining to this.

I actually wrote a pretty good piece on why Powell is succeeding at the rim this year – and by extension, the 3-point line. If you’re into the minute details, this should be up your alley. Broke down extra dribble moves, steps and combos that he’s incorporated this year to shake loose of help-side bigs. That’s right here.

I’m a big Norm fan, so I’ve enjoyed his resurgence a lot.

Some of you glorious commenters did my background work on this one for me. Sixteen of the remaining games are against teams that are currently under .500. That bodes pretty well for the Raptors, as they’re sitting at 43-16. I think the Raptors should be able to win three and lose one in a loop, at the very least. It’s an optimistic viewpoint, but I think the Raptors will win 60-games for the first time in franchise history.

Boucher’s contract was eligible for a policy in which the financial terms of the deal will not be released or disclosed. Let’s hope it’s enough money to feed Latrell Sprewell’s kids!


It’s possible that he still ends up being the guy they pickup, but all the madness of having to sign ‘X’ amount of players before a certain date threw a wrench in their plans and prohibited his 10-day from being processed by the league. Now that Jeremy Lin, Malcolm Miller and Chris Boucher have all signed on, the Raptors have less need for a 10-day from McLemore, as they no longer need his contract to fulfill requirements while the buyout market develops. Like I said, he might still end up being the guy, but it was a bit of rotten luck for him that the Raptors cap situation was so funky.

My theory on Caramilk bars is that they are comprised of a top and a bottom. These two pieces of chocolate are made separately and joined together once the caramel has been poured inside the bottom piece. Once the caramel is inside, the top goes on and is melted together with a bit of heat as a laser inscribes the logo. They also don’t have Caramilk bars in Mexico, but that was one of my favourite candy bars growing up. Throw it in the fridge and eat it cold!

After doing a bit of research, you’ll be shocked to find out that Leonard’s food tastes are pretty mundane. Grilled chicken and vegetables, or sandwiches. If I was taking him on a date, I would take him to the worst place to eat in Los Angeles, and then talk about how great the food is in Toronto. I’d also make sure we sat in LA traffic for 4 hours.

I’m cool with it. In fact, I love it. Siakam has my unconditional love. He’s such a unique personality and player. I enjoy watching him lope up and down the court and finish from an endless amount of arm slots at the rim.

Uncle Dennis is Kawhi Leonard’s uncle, apparently. I think the reason we haven’t heard anything about him, is that the Toronto media has done a terrific job of not disrespecting Leonard’s individual agency by suggesting some “Uncle” is engineering moves for his nephew. I think the Uncle Dennis stuff was spin from the media to demonize Leonard and his crew, honestly. I don’t expect him to have a noticeable presence during his FA this year, because I think Leonard’s FA will be fairly simple. I’m not sure what Leonard is going to do, but I expect it to be a pretty straightforward procedure. If this answer isn’t great, I’m sorry, I just don’t buy into all the Uncle Dennis stuff.

Maria Baja! I’ll make sure to make a trip to La Tia this week. If I see you comment on anything of mine going forward, I’ll make sure to tell you what I think.

Hopefully this was fun for everyone, and feel free to keep asking with #RRMailbag on twitter or just follow me and lob questions that way, I’ll respond. Super happy to engage with you lot in this way. A last reminder: We have a Patreon version of the site here at Raptors Republic. Not only will it provide an ad-free service to you, it will help fund all things RR related. If you’re a fan of the content, want to support, and have the means to do so, you can do that here.

Also, a quick shoutout to Louis Zatzman. His stuff has been consistently great all year. If you’re not keeping an eye out for his pieces, you should be.

Have a blessed day.

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