Roundtable

2018-19 Playoff Preview Panel, part one

It’s time for the playoffs. For all the numbers going into the Magic series, you can find my preview here. Samson also did a fairly lengthy mailbag. And Anthony wrote here on Toronto’s playoff demons. Lots more coming, but first, here’s a roundtable digging into the regular season, the playoff run, and what might come afterwards. Here are the first five questions, and the second five are coming later today.

1) We know the order for the Raptors’ playoff run, most likely Magic, Sixers, Bucks, Warriors. How far will Toronto go and why?

Cooper Smither

Optimism says they get to the finals after a tough serious against Milwaukee and lose to the Warriors in 5 or 6. My realistic pessimistic side says they’ll lose to Milwaukee in 7. I’ll go with the latter.

Zarar Siddiqi

Kawhi’s ten best games as a Toronto Raptor need to come in the playoffs. If they don’t, they might scrape by the Sixers and lose to the Bucks. If they do, then they’re making the finals. Marc Gasol’s integration into the Raptors offense has been off the cuff and I’m not sure it will pass the test of locked in playoff defenses. If he’s scoring at lower rates then that puts extra pressure on guys like Norman Powell to produce more output, and that’s where the bench becomes an issue. If this sorts itself out and Ibaka continues his strong regular season, we’ll make the Finals. If they don’t, we won’t.

Adam McQueen

As I’m not yet fully tainted by Toronto cynicism, I believe that the Raptors will make it to the NBA Finals… and lose. I have loved the way that the team has played post-trade deadline. The front office has addressed the playoff woes that previous Raptors teams have endured by bringing in three veterans who have all succeeded in the brightest of lights in Leonard, Green, and Gasol.

Samson Folk

The Raptors are going to beat the Bucks because of their ability to throw OG/Kawhi/Siakam/Green at Giannis over the course of the series, and because without Brogdon – or a version of Brogdon returning from injury – the Bucks will be hard-pressed to win the backcourt matchup in the series. The Raptors will lose to the Golden State Warriors because Kevin Durant and Steph Curry both have a claim to the league’s best player title, and neither is selfish, and both are incredible and can run a devastating 1/3 – 3/1 pick n’ roll that scorches the earth.

Tim Chisholm

Toronto /should/ make it to the Conference Finals against, presumably, the Milwaukee Bucks. Less than that not only would see the team lose to an inferior opponent, but it would also be a massive blow to the organization’s self-imposed mandate to meaningfully improve upon recent failures. Masai Ujiri made bold moves, and then had some bold statements about why he felt he needed to make the moves he did, so he’s not leaving himself any wiggle room here. Really the team shouldn’t be proud of anything less than a Finals appearance, but less than the Conference Finals is just a failure.

Nick Tutssel

Their ceiling? An NBA Championship. I don’t think it’s the most likely outcome, but it’s something this group has shown they’re capable of. If you’re scared of the Sixers you likely still sleep with a night light. Beating a Giannis-led Milwaukee team with home court advantage will be the Raps first real challenge. The key to beating the Bucks isn’t stopping the likely MVP, (you can’t) but keeping their shooters at bay. If they can do that and Kawhi shows his next gear, they should advance to the NBA finals where, depending on their opponent, they have a chance.

Shyam Baskaran

A lot can still change, but I think the Raptors will make the NBA Finals. The Magic will actually be a little tough I think, but that’s a 6 game series at the very most. The Sixers have as much talent as anyone, but there are some moving parts there that haven’t been totally figured out, and the Raptors have had their number all season. The Bucks do concern me on paper given their analytic prowess and dynamic roster, but in an Eastern Conference Finals matchup, I’d bank on the experience of the Raptors’ core in Leonard, Lowry, Ibaka, and Green over the still somewhat inexperienced Bucks. That’s still a really tough series to predict though with the Bucks having homecourt – and the Celtics could still beat them in the second round.

Josh Howe

I’ve thought this for a while now and it would be straight-up cowardice to back off of it: The Raptors will make The Finals. I have no idea if they can win The Finals, but they sure as heck can make it. They’re a superior team to Philly, likely won’t have to play Boston, and are every bit as good as Milwaukee (who could certainly still win on the back of Giannis, who is legitimately terrifying), if not better.

I will probably regret this take because, y’know, Raptors, but on the eve of the playoffs I am always filled with a cherub-like optimism.

Sahal Abdi

I don’t see this incoming playoff run being as much of a joyride as some believe. A given would be their first-round matchup versus Orlando. I’d be shocked if that series doesn’t end in four or five games. The next round will see a likely matchup between Toronto and Philly. This is where it gets interesting. The 76ers aren’t a pushover, by any stretch. They have three top-25 players in the NBA. How many teams can say the same? Three? Maybe four or five if you stretch it? That series is going to 7 if everyone’s healthy. I see Toronto passing them and meeting Milwaukee in the ECF. Again — both teams fully healthy in this series, I’m going Toronto in 6 to finish it off at home. Toronto has the vast playoff experience, roster composition (finally, a true superstar) and offensive-defensive balance you see in a championship-contending team. Did I forget the Warriors? Yeah, those guys in 6.

Katie Heindl

Sixers are going to be tricky because of Embiid and Butler and the biggest threat of all to my heart, Greg Monroe and the Bucks similarly have a whole lot of annoying threats and energy. The faster the Raptors can wrap each series the better their odds in general but, being very real to the behemoth of the Warriors and how that beast wakes up in the postseason, I don’t think Toronto will be getting by Golden State.

Louis Zatzman

Toronto should cruise past the Magic and 76ers, but the Bucks are a whole other beast. They have the only player in the East better than Leonard, and they have a rigid identity on either side of the ball. I overestimated the Raptors’ chances last year, so let’s overcompensate and underestimate them this year. I’ll say they lose to the Bucks in 7. One day I’ll get this prediction thing right.

Tamberlyn Richardson

Maybe I’m guilty of drinking the Kool-Aid, but I believe Toronto reach their first NBA Finals. As for the opponents – the 76ers talented starting five are ill-fitting, Embiid’s health uncertain and the bench is still thin. I’d lean to Boston taking out Antetokounmpo’s Bucks (Brogdon health factor). If not the perimeter may be the deciding factor in a Bucks-Raptors series. Milwaukee ranks 15th from deep and 22nd in defense of the perimeter while the Raptors rank sixth and eighth respectively.

2) How will you celebrate when the Raps win the ‘ship?

Cooper Smither:

Breaking down their SLOB EOG winner.

Zarar Siddiqi

Hang out with my Dad.

Adam McQueen

I will celebrate by cracking an adult beverage and listening to the great Samson Folk try to keep his shit together on the reaction podcast. I will also get a tattoo of Marc Gasol’s patented turnaround fade from the left block onto my left butt cheek.

Samson Folk

If the Raptors win I’ll celebrate by adopting a dog and naming him Louis Zatzman.

Tim Chisholm

I’ll celebrate by hopping in my hover car, buying a virtual burger with my space bucks, and then chilling while I wait for my robot wife to come home.

Nick Tutssel

Probably cry. I’m gonna leave it at that because I don’t want to jinx it.

Shyam Baskaran

I’ll probably finally commit and buy a Kawhi Leonard jersey.

Josh Howe

Remember KG’s “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLLLLLLLLLLE!!!” scream? Yeah, that will be me. Except the Raptors version. On loop for eternity.

Sahal Abdi

What rating does this website operate on, again? Nobody, and I seriously mean… nobody wants to know how I’ll celebrate (I’m going to streak). In all seriousness though, I don’t know what I’ll do. Winning an NBA championship is one of those things where you can only imagine how you’d feel until you actually get there. I’m a massive Toronto FC fan, so that feeling in 2017 was almost euphoric. It’s the purest form of exhilaration mixed with “Did we just do this? We really did this thing?”.

Katie Heindl

Ohhh, like, cry.

Louis Zatzman

I’m going to Disneyland. Imma ride the kiddy rides.

3) What’s Toronto’s biggest weakness in the playoffs? Biggest strength?

Cooper Smither:

I think one of their biggest strengths will become their weakness as the playoffs go on and their competition becomes better. Toronto’s off-ball defence has been VERY aggressive all year, in that they will “dogs and help to the ball on all drives and catches. When executed well, it widens the gap between Toronto and poor shooting/passing teams (76ers, etc…), but there’s just no way it works well against teams they’ll see in the ECF and beyond. Their elite spacing, shooting, and playmaking will leverage that aggressiveness against them and turn it into a weakness.

Zarar Siddiqi

Our bench production is erratic and Kyle Lowry has yet to show that he can be a clutch offensive player in the postseason.  If the two issues conflate, then we’re in mountains of trouble. Our biggest strength is how well our starting five matches up with any other starting five in the league. If the chemistry there is tight and Danny Green is firing, it is not unreasonable to think that the Raptors can hand out a few blowouts.

Adam McQueen

When I look at the Raptors potential opponents, the biggest fear I have is their ability to rebound. Toronto are a middling defensive rebounding team, while Orlando and Philadelphia will both throw out supersized lineups. There is no doubt that Aaron Gordon or Ben Simmons will crash the offensive glass relentlessly. Toronto’s defensive versatility, three-point shooting, and possession of one of the league’s best iso scorers in Kawhi are their three biggest strengths in playoff situations.

Samson Folk

The biggest weakness the Raptors have is uncertainty. Lowry’s shot can come and go, Leonard’s health has a tiny asterisk next to it, and we’re banking on a few players hitting another gear. If that next gear doesn’t come, they just won’t be good enough to beat the Bucks, and might even lose to the 76ers if the team from Philly plays well enough.

Tim Chisholm

Biggest weakness is their inconsistent bench. VanVleet and Ibaka should fare fine, which gives the team seven reliable bodies, but once you start reaching for Norm Powell or OG, you’re playing with fire. Their biggest strength is that those top-seven are killer, dotted with more Playoff veterans (and Championships) than anyone they’ll face in the Eastern Conference.

Nick Tutssel

The Raptor’s biggest weakness, as it has been all season, is being able to maintain their leads against great teams. This team feeds of one another’s energy and when its good it’s really good. But when they fall into offensive lulls, it can spread like a cancer. To me their biggest asset is their depth. Down 2 with 14 seconds to go in a Game 7, you could make an argument for 5 different guys to take the last shot.  No other team except for the Warriors can say that.

Shyam Baskaran

The biggest weakness is probably secondary scoring and shooting. If Danny Green is neutralized, it puts a lot of pressure on Kawhi to be a shooter and a scorer. It’s clear Lowry has taken a step back this season as a scorer, and Siakam’s scoring isn’t exactly super-rangy yet, nor is it a proven commodity in the playoffs. So on the right day, a well-schemed defence can stifle this team. The biggest strength is obvious – we have a top-3 player when healthy in the playoffs.

Josh Howe

Toronto’s biggest weakness is probably the number of corner threes it allows. For the season, the Raps rank sixth (4.1) in opponent three-point attempts from the left corner and fifth (4.0) in opponent attempts from the right corner. Somehow, this hasn’t managed to bite them in the butt yet (teams are shooting 36.6 per cent against them from the left corner, 35.4 per cent from the right), but continuing to allow opponents so many looks from such a dangerous spot on the floor isn’t ideal.

The club’s biggest strength is probably the ability to switch nearly everything (the team doesn’t often switch Gasol, for obvious reasons) and spark transition opportunities. Fast break chances are rarer in the playoffs, and the Raptors thriving on them (1.19 points per possession on a 20.2 per cent frequency) would perhaps feel like more of a concern if not for their ability to be so adaptable defensively and muck things up for teams attempting to seek out mismatches.

Sahal Abdi

Biggest weakness has to be their ineptitude in the rebounding department. To be fair, Toronto ranks right in the middle of the pack in team defensive rebounding percentage, but the in the bottom of half of the league in team offensive rebounding percentage. On the other side, they allow a high defensive rebound % rate (rank 22nd in league) and again, are middle of the pack in allowing offensive rebound %. This isn’t much of a surprise, when the largest man Toronto employs (Marc Gasol) isn’t a terrific rebounder compared to the other premiere bigs in the league. Biggest strength has to be their incredible ability to keep defences off-balance with a very high-rate of passes. The team’s assist numbers have a direct correlation to Toronto’s offensive efficiency and high 3PT percentages.

Katie Heindl

Versatility and energy have been problems in the past.  Strength has been grittiness, and the ability to stick it out and claw their way back.

Louis Zatzman

Toronto’s biggest weakness is probably the lack of depth. Nick Nurse tried as hard as he could to find some bench units that worked, but nothing really stuck. If they have some long series in advance of the Bucks, and the starters need to log heavy minutes, Toronto could be in trouble.

The biggest strength is Leonard. As good as Siakam is, and as smart as Lowry, VanVleet, and Gasol are, Leonard is the piece Toronto has never had. He’s the alpha scorer and hall of fame defender that Toronto has lacked during its entire existence as a franchise. We’re about to find out what it’s like to cheer for one of the greats during the playoffs.

Tamberlyn Richardson

Diving into analytics the ability to score in the paint (ranked 19th) and offensive rebounding (24th) are the greatest areas of weakness. More concerning is the Raptors ranked 30th in offensive rebounding and offensive rebound percentage post All-Star break. They’ll need to clean that area up in the playoffs.

Ironically, I think the fact Toronto utilized so many different lineup iterations will end up giving them a huge edge over opponents tasked with adapting in a series. The Raptors versatility, two-way prowess, playoff experience and a bonafide superstar talent in Kawhi are all major strengths. But, the greatest overall strength of this team is how they can shut down teams defensively for long stretches. Toronto faced teams already playing with desperation down the stretch and their defense was what resonated most for me.

4) How was Kawhi’s season? He staying?

Cooper Smither:

He’s such a singular and independent offensive talent – his mere presence is an advantage on offence. Defensively, he’s nowhere near where he was and his reputation precedes him to his advantage, as opposing teams treat him like he’s elite 24/7. He’s had nice moments, and maybe he turns it up, but he’s far from out of this world defensively.

And of course.

Zarar Siddiqi

His season has been well managed and he’s been amazing. The Raptors organization needs to be given a lot of credit for how they’ve handled this. I don’t know if he’s staying – I haven’t ever thought about it.

Adam McQueen

The Kawhi experiment as a whole has been a resounding success. Credit the front office for putting together a collection of talent and personalities that can thrive even when Leonard is not present. Leonard’s individual performances has gradually gotten to the level he was at pre-injury, but I’m more impressed with his integration into the team.

Samson Folk

Kawhi’s season was great. He’s healthy at the end of it so we can judge him on what he’s really here for, the playoffs. He has the unique opportunity to embed himself into one of the world’s largest cities culture in the coming months. He’s staying.

Tim Chisholm

Kawhi had a very underrated season. You can whine about the load management and the sub-MVP output, but he was masterful at avoiding the free agency drama that followed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant all year, he was effusive about the Raptors medical staff, and he worked all year to learn the only other NBA system he’s had to learn in his career. I would no longer be surprised if he stayed, and could see the only reason for leaving being a sentimental attachment to home in California.

Nick Tutssel

It was loads of fun (sorry). Kawhi showed Raptors fans why he’s the best 2-way player in basketball. Ridiculously efficient on offense, can contain other stars better than almost anyone, and most importantly he gelled with the rest of the roster. I’d put it at 60% he stays, but the biggest influencing factor on that percentage will be the outcome of this playoff run. But I think he’s genuinely enjoyed this season and bonded with his new teammates, that’s gotta count for something, right?

Shyam Baskaran

After that How Hungry Are You episode with Serge, how can we think he’s leaving?

Josh Howe

It was good! The guy’s coming off a still-ambiguous injury that really, by the sounds of it, could have bogged him down to a much worse degree than it did this season (Kawhi has been effusive in his praise for Toronto’s medical staff), and so it’s been a joy to watch him continue to recuperate and reestablish himself as one of the game’s top players.

As for if he’s staying or not—did you see those dino-shoes?

Sahal Abdi

All things considered, people didn’t know what Kawhi we’d get to start the year. He sat out a chunk of his last season with San Antonio with a lingering quad injury. He was traded here and quickly demonstrated he was still an All-NBA caliber player. Kawhi played a fantastic overall season. Game-winners, high scoring numbers, bought into the offence, and a bunch of smiling. I’ve kept the same tune since the summer and if anything I feel stronger about it now — Kawhi’s staying.

Katie Heindl

Can’t complain! I feel better about him staying than at any previous point in this season but a lot is going to hinge on how these playoffs pan out. And, however lofty it might seem now, who else we can get the summer out of the big names entering in the market.

Louis Zatzman

Like everyone else, I agree, Leonard’s season was ridiculously successful. The most impressive part wasn’t his ability to dominate in isolation, which we already knew about, but instead his ability to blend. He’s had to alter his game over the course of the year, and he’s changed in ways to benefit Toronto while the team just kept on winning.

Tamberlyn Richardson

From a purely statistical standpoint, Kawhi delivered. He finished with career per game highs of points (26.6), rebounds (7.3) and assists (3.3). If we take his own words to heart, however, that was just the tip of the iceberg and he’ll be kicking it up a notch starting Saturday.

Most pundits seem convinced Kawhi is leaving and perhaps I’m wearing rose colored glasses but I think he stays. Masai and Nurse addressed his greatest concerns of health and how he is utilized. While I still believe Lowry is the captain of this team, Kawhi is the alpha dog who appears to have strong bonds with his teammates (particularly Green, Ibaka, Powell, and Anunoby). Yet, the overriding reason I think he stays is when I try to imagine where he would go the top options don’t make sense to me.

Kawhi would have no desire to play second fiddle to anyone which rules out LeBron’s Lakers. The LA Clippers are the club most often cited to be his landing spot. But ask yourself one question — can you honestly see Leonard dealing with this personality on a daily basis?

5) Obviously, Siakam is the Most Improved Player this year. Should any Raptors be in contention for any other awards?

Cooper Smither:

Masai Ujiri is the Executive of the Year.

Adam McQueen

Chris Boucher’s per 36 numbers puts him in serious All-NBA contention. Alas, the corrupt media’s anti-Canadian bias will leave him off of the ballot. A Raptor deserves to be on the All-Defence team, however it feels as if their collective talent somewhat offsets each player’s candidacy. Despite this, give me Danny G for Second Team All-Defence.

Samson Folk

Lowry and Leonard were already All-Stars, Siakam will have the MIP this year and MVP next year. This is a fine enough amount of awards.

Tim Chisholm

Danny Green should get looks for an All-Defensive spot, and Kawhi should definitely land an All-NBA spot, but in terms of individual award honours, the Raptors were too much of a group to say that anyone really separated themselves from the pack.

Nick Tutssel

No. unless you consider All-NBA teams “awards” – Kawhi is definitely on 2nd team All-NBA and I think Pascal has made a compelling case for an All-Defensive nod. I’d also like to nominate Lowry for best bench swag – that towel headband is a look.

Shyam Baskaran

Kawhi for all-NBA and Pascal for all-defence. Not sure if either will get into first team selections, but they should be considered in one of the tiers for sure.

Josh Howe

Nah, that’s the one Toronto should be putting its full marketing force behind. The bench has been notably one of the Raptors’ main issues (so no Sixth Man), Kawhi has missed too many games (so no MVP), and the team’s defensive mettle is really a product of collective effort (so no Defensive Player of the Year). A case could be made for Nurse to win Coach of the Year, but he’ll have a tough time since Casey won it last season and Budenholzer, Rivers, and others all have strong arguments. (But hey, maybe Bobby Webster sneaks in for Executive of the Year?)

Sahal Abdi

If we consider All-NBA and All-Defence awards in name, then sure. Even with 22 games missed, Kawhi should be at minimum on the 3rd All-NBA, 2nd All-Defensive team. Danny Green is on the outside looking in for All-Defence. The guy played 80 games and defended the best ‘1 to 3’ player admirably almost every game. Masai Ujiri for Executive of the Year for countless reasons (Kawhi, Green, Gasol, Boucher). With regard to the countless injuries Toronto suffered this season, Nurse did a great coaching job. I’d still take three or four coaches over him for COY, though. Maybe Teammate of the Year award (yes, that’s a real thing) to Danny Green?

Katie Heindl

Biggest Greg Monroe Shaped Hole in the Roster Award: Greg Monroe

Tamberlyn Richardson

Danny Green and Siakam should both be in consideration for an All-Defensive team. Kawhi will land on an All-NBA team and possibly an All-Defensive team

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