RR Mailbag

Mailbag #2 – Another Gear? Insecurities and the 96′ Bulls

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers. 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.

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Okydoke, let’s get into it.

Listen, I am a big Bradley Beal fan, he’s very good and still underrated. There was no way that the Raptors were going to get him if Pascal Siakam wasn’t headed back the other way. The Wizards – and rightfully so – are much too high on Beal for that.

I think that the season was a resounding success. The way you framed your question even hints at a terrific development that nobody might’ve guessed, we wouldn’t trade Siakam for Beal. It’s shocking how far along Siakam has come. He’s likely a top-40 player right now, and can make a case for top-30 if the playoffs go well. Siakam’s burst towards stardom has been the tastiest slice of this season’s pie, but there’s plenty other things to like.

I know this team was slated to win over 60 games, but Lowry and Leonard missed 39 games combined -VanVleet was also out for a spell – and somehow this team still meandered it’s way to 58 wins and a superior record to everyone except for the exceptional Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks.

Outside of that, the offense is as varied as the franchise has ever seen it. We have more “next level” players than ever before, and the whole team is healthy. Years back, we couldn’t have dreamed that Leonard and Marc Gasol would be headlining this team with Lowry, but that’s a reality now. I’m sure this team could have done marginally better, but injuries are unpredictable and outside of that the Raptors were one of the league’s apex predators. This season has been extremely rewarding to watch as a fan of Siakam, and the Raptors as a whole.

So, Gasol has a player option for $25,595,700 next year. I don’t think it’s likely that he walks away from that much money and the Raptors will have him on the books. I wouldn’t expect Meeks or Lin to be with the Raptors next year, barring any type of incredible playoff explosion.

Danny Green has expressed a ton of interest in resigning in Toronto. I think that he will regardless of Leonard’s situation, but I think that the contract changes based on whether or not Leonard is in Toronto.

Leonard Stays (Max Contract): Green likely gets a 3-year deal worth 25-32 million dollars.

Leonard Leaves: Recognizing the teams significantly lowered ceiling, Masai Ujiri identifies 2019-20 as the last season with Gasol and Ibaka. Green will sign a JJ Redick type deal (1-year 15-17 million) and the Raptors will evaluate a longer term contract after 19-20 when the reigns of the franchise are shifting towards Siakam and the younger players.

First off, it’s meaningful that Boucher has put on 50 pounds of weight in the last 3-years. It really speaks to his dedication to his body and his understanding that, that is his biggest weakness. He obviously needs to keep growing his body in order to maximize his potential. Secondly, he needs to work religiously on his 3-point shot and turn that from a late-game talking point into a real weapon. To have a place in the league he likely needs to shoot it better than just for a big man. If you look at Brook Lopez he’s attempting over 6 triples a game, that’s more than making the defense respect it, that’s a real weapon in the Bucks offense.

Lastly, don’t expect a summer of Siakam from Boucher. Siakam – who is recognized as a near All-NBA defender – was already this type of defender last year, and miles ahead of where Boucher is now. Boucher can get eviscerated by the simplest of NBA pick n’ rolls and where Siakam needed to work on his individual skills, Boucher’s greatest progressions will come in how he plays in the flow of the game defensively and offensively. Boucher is a long shot, but he’s freakishly long and dedicated. If I were a betting man, I’d say Boucher’s “Summer of Siakam” is closer to age 28-29 than it is 26.

It seems to me that Lowry’s scoring is most effective when he’s doing it off-ball. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen the Raptors offense look bad when Lowry is playmaking. However, it can look bad if the offense creates a good shot for Lowry and he gives it up or misses it. It’s gut-wrenching when side-top-side action creates an open look and he can’t capitalize.

It’s worth noting that while Lowry is the “2nd guy” next to Leonard, Siakam has definitively taken the role of second scorer. If Siakam struggles in the playoffs, then I could see a need for Lowry to revert back to a 2015-16 version of himself for a game or two, but as currently constructed, the Raptors only need him to finish possessions when they fall in his lap and keep on creating shots for his teammates.

The last time Leonard was in the playoffs he averaged 28-points, 4.6 assists, 8-rebounds and was just shy of two steals per game on .525/.455/.931 shooting splits. He’s a real life monster in the playoffs and there’s a reason the Spurs were smoking the Warriors before Zaza Pachulia slid his foot under him. The Raptors organization has given him plenty of rest and attention to see him healthy and dominant in the playoffs. He’s going to be incredible, and I’m excited.

“I guess we’re gonna find out. I think this is another step with him we have to take, I think, he’s been a long way in the playoffs a number of times. I think he’s able to handle it, and we’re looking for even more leadership and steadiness of demeanour and leadership of the other younger guys who haven’t been in these situations before. I’m also really looking forward to watching him play in these playoffs. I think he’s really feeling good about his body, and his mindset is really good too. I think there may be another gear we see.” – Nick Nurse on Kawhi Leonard in the Playoffs

I would expect the team to continue to be fairly careful with his health if he re-signs. The Raptors are supposedly putting in great effort to build trust with him and I don’t think that ends with him signing a contract. It’s also worth noting that when you have a player of Leonard’s ilk, the regular season is a little bit less important and you’re always prepping for the playoffs. Not to mention, if Leonard has a great postseason he’ll be inserted into Raptors folk-lore immediately and he and the organization will have enough social currency to do as they please.

I’m sure Leonard likes to play basketball, and if he feels good more most of next year – provided that he’s with the Raptors- he’ll play as many games as he can, while feeling good. I’d expect at least a little “load management” though.

‘JV’ is fantastic and I love how things have went since he arrived in Memphis (excluding his injury). With that being said, I think that being able to adapt in the playoffs is of the utmost importance and Marc Gasol adds a lot of different layers to the Raptors offense. We’ve seen way too many playoff runs ousted by teams trapping the pick n’ roll or just going under it. The Raptors offense can wear a lot of different hats with Gasol in tow. Even though ‘JV’ is a monster and much younger, I want Gasol today.

This really depends on if you think Powell or Anunoby is the 9th guy. So let’s answer as if both were the 9th guy, and what each would need to do to leapfrog the other.

If Powell is the 9th guy he should have a good amount of run chasing Terrence Ross around during the first round and he’ll certainly be a better option to track JJ Redick than Anunoby would be if and when the Raptors suit up against the 76ers. He’s also been much better on offense than Anunoby of late, and he’s looked really sharp as a tertiary bench option.

If Anunoby is the 9th guy he figures to be a big defensive weapon in a way that Powell can’t be. The Raptors should end up playing against the likes of Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. That’s a ton of wing talent and Anunoby can’t be taken advantage by most of those players in isolation, which removes one of the other teams go-to options. IF Anunoby plays anywhere close to where he was last year on offense he should make Powell’s role pretty insignificant. That remains to be seen, though.

So, I would guess that Powell? Unless you were considering him as the 8th, then I would say Anunoby. I can’t see Lin or Meeks making waves at all.

I can’t speak to what other writers are fearful of, but there’s a roundtable coming out tomorrow and as far as Louis Zatzman, he’s definitely concerned about how many deadlines he’ll have to meet.

For me, I’m very confident about Kawhi Leonard’s play. If I wasn’t, I don’t know if there would be any reason for optimism to be quite frank. If we don’t recognize Leonard as the player he was in San Antonio then the Raptors ceiling is lowered, but I see him as a top-5 player and transformative for the Raptors playoff dreams.

I’m concerned with Gasol’s paint offense a little bit. He has to be a bit better in there, and I promise I’m not trying to be too harsh on Gasol, but when he touches the ball in the paint it’s usually pretty bad. As of April 1st, his points per paint touch were 0.441 with the Raptors and the next lowest qualified center league-wide was at 0.624. The decision to move a lot of his actions above-the-break was really smart of Nurse, but if the Raptors need him to perform on the block it doesn’t look like he’ll be much of a positive factor down there. We’ll see, though.

Arshdeep! I’m going to take this time to thank you for being a positive force in the comment section anytime I look. There’s exceptions, like if the Magic start running Birch and Vucevic at the same time we should see Ibaka-Gasol in the front-court. My ideal allocation before any type of adjustments are made are:

PG: Kyle Lowry – 37, Fred VanVleet – 11

SG: Danny Green – 32, Fred VanVleet – 12, Norman Powell – 4

SF: Kawhi Leonard – 38, OG Anunoby – 6, Norman Powell – 4

PF: Pascal Siakam – 40, OG Anunoby – 8

C: Marc Gasol – 26, Serge Ibaka – 22

I think it’s entirely possible that Masai has already received calls for a job with the Lakers. I don’t think he’d be entertaining them unless the paycheque was truly stupid. The Raptors have given him more agency than most executives receive and I’ve never seen a fanbase identify with a member of the Front Office quite like Toronto has with Masai.

He’s been able to implement the G-League foundations he wanted, the Giants of Africa affiliation has been wildly successful, and he raves about the city anytime he’s given a platform to do so. As a lot of international people do (or just, most people that don’t suffer from American Exceptionalism), he sees Toronto as a beautiful collection of culture. If I’m playing armchair psychologist, he probably doesn’t need the Lakers or Los Angeles attached to his resume to satiate his “ambitious” nature and I would suggest that he thinks he can be as ambitious as he wants from Toronto, Canada.

I can’t see this happening. That would be unprecedented, and I don’t know that, that would happen just one year after letting go of the reigning coach of the year winner. Don’t bet on this.

Gordon Ramsay, Vince Staples, Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic, Doris Burke, Never Drake (please never), and Blake Murphy.

The Knicks are getting Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant this offseason. So they won’t be getting Kemba, but based off of how this year has went, they were happy to lose regardless of anything.

Bossy.

If you subscribe to the idea that free-throw percentage is a decent indicator of 3-point ability, and we’re operating under the idea that whatever team they played would be able to practice with the modern NBA rules, I choose the 96′ Bulls. Michael Jordan is who I recognize as the GOAT, but I would love to see how that team looks when you throw a zone at them. I’m sure Jordan would average 40, or some outrageous number, but I think that the rest of that team would be limited by the rules of today somewhat. The Bulls at that point in time were a collection of specific player-types that complemented Jordan and if the game was moved away from isolation on the offensive end, and brutally physical one-on-one defense on the other, it would be tough for the Bulls to dominate like they did.

The drop-off in production after Scottie Pippen was pretty significant and the complexity of defensive schemes in today’s basketball would be a massive adjustment for the Bulls to contend with. I’d love to see Toni Kukoc in a pick n’ roll and provided that the Raptors were diligent on box-outs, Rodman would be significantly less effective disrupting the Raptors zone defense.

If the Raptors had to play in the opposite era then I would play the Lakers. Setting Danny Green loose on Jerry West would be a wonderful test of the eras, and the combined manliness of Ibaka vs. Chamberlain would be incredible to behold. Oh yeah, Leonard would eat up Elgin Baylor.

Hope that’s good enough.

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.

Have a blessed day.

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