VanVleet big broing Davis | Load managing to be tougher
With Lowry, the sweet spot is a little bit easier to gauge. One aspect of his load that will always be kept in mind is the minimum 65-game and 25 minutes per game trigger that is required for him to earn his bonuses. Toronto went 11-6 in the 17 games Lowry missed last season, but the team figures to need him more this season. The aforementioned departures have left the team light on 3-point shooting while the relative lack of depth at the shooting guard position also stands to highlight his importance.
The 33-year-old played 78 games in 2017-18 but was aided by playing 32 minutes a game. Reasonably, he should hover somewhere between the 34 minutes of last season and 37 of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. Factoring in his age, with that many minutes, and considering how much the team will need him to compete for home court advantage through two rounds of the playoffs, they’ll ideally need him in and around the 70-mark this season.
Gasol’s importance is an interesting one. He remains a fantastic two-way player who can anchor the team on both sides of the ball, but the Raptors also have Serge Ibaka to mitigate any concern over minutes. Gasol averaged just 25 minutes a game with the Raptors over the final 26 games of the season, a significant drop from the near 34 he was playing in Memphis. If his minutes hover in the same region as they did in Toronto last season, you probably just need him sitting out the occasional back-to-back.
“I think you have to trust the medical team,” Gasol said at training camp. “Obviously, as a player, you always want to play, you know, your competitive nature. But you have to protect yourself from yourself a little bit. Let the guys who are professionals make those decisions.”
Approaching 35, Gasol has played in at least 73 games in four of the past five seasons, including 79 last year. The Raptors face five pairs of back-to-backs before the turn of the calendar year, and that’s when the medical staff will want to be most careful about the strain on his body. Still, with the anticipated time share at centre, you’d like to think that as long as he isn’t hurt or traded, there’s another 70-plus game season in him.
The other factor that impacts both Lowry and Gasol’s usage is development. Toronto will want to see what both VanVleet and Chris Boucher can bring to the table this season, and so figuring out those answers will play its role.
Point guards are plentiful in the league, which is one of the factors that drove VanVleet back to Toronto last summer. But there could be plenty of teams willing to pay him like a starter even if he is a third guard, given how well he has performed next to Lowry and while on the court with him. Having multiple guards who can shoot is also a very good thing, even if VanVleet is undersized.
That final consideration is what makes VanVleet’s fit in Toronto, and elsewhere, even more complex. In the playoffs last year, he did an admirable job chasing around Steph Curry, serving as the “one” in Nick Nurse’s “box-and-one” defence. Even as he struggled offensively, VanVleet was very good at sticking with JJ Redick in the Philadelphia series. His defence is what kept him in the lineup throughout the playoffs, despite severe early shooting struggles. Comparatively short as he might be, VanVleet is a stout defender, and it is easy to see him developing a Lowry-like reputation as he gets older for his ability to hang with bigger players.
However, you need reps to prove that, which is just another way in which the two point guards are similar. Lowry knew that when Memphis chose Mike Conley over him more than a decade ago, he needed a change of scenery to prove his worth. That came in Houston in small doses, and then in Toronto in a large one. Luckily, VanVleet exists in a time where the concept of having just one ball-handling point guard on the floor is dying. That gives him more options than Lowry had to find his niche.
Still, without knowing how much VanVleet can produce as a starting guard, it will be tough for teams to put a price on him. This goes for the Raptors, too: VanVleet is one of the leaders on this team, irrespective of age, but how much are that and his on-court production worth when the Raptors want to remain as flexible as possible in 2021? How real are the Raptors’ chances at acquiring a marquee free agent then?
Signing VanVleet long-term could act as an opportunity cost for finding an answer to that second question, or it could at least hinder those attempts. Even if they add nobody while paying Pascal Siakam and VanVleet their market values, in addition to the already locked up Norman Powell, it would serve to limit the Raptors’ cap space, and their star-hunting ambitions in the process. These are not issues with Siakam, because if he can be one of the top 20 players in the league, which the Raptors believe he will be, he will be worth any price. VanVleet’s ceiling is obviously lower than that. He brings a lot to the table, but only the best players in this league are irreplaceable.
Role On The Team
Well, this one is going to be a tough one to sort out for Nick Nurse. Kyle Lowry is firmly entrenched as the GOAT Raptor as well as starting the starting point guard and FVV is locked in as the backup PG and sometimes lead PG while Lowry plays off-ball. Where does that leave Mr. Davis?
While the Raptors could certainly find some room for him at the two-spot, the starting back-court would be severely undersized against most of the teams in the league and Davis doesn’t quite have the defensive chops to make up for his lack of size.
Drawing parallels yet again with Steady Freddy, VanVleet saw a grand total of 7.9 minutes in his rookie season and that number might not be completely far off where Davis lands by the end of the season. With that said, if he can manage to play anything like he did in his first go-round of NBA action in Japan, then coach Nurse is going to have a very hard time keeping him off the floor.
Make no mistake, the Raptors aren’t going to suddenly be able to find a one-to-one replacement for a top-three NBA player and an elite-level, three-and-D role player, so if those are your expectations for Toronto’s wings this season it would be best to begin tempering them now.
With that said, it’s not like the Raptors are completely devoid of options at the two and three spots, in fact, one of the Raptors’ biggest strengths at the wing is that they have nothing but options.
Though it may sound bad, what the Raptors have now is an abundance of choice at the wing, with many players for head coach Nick Nurse to try in a variety of different situations as opposed to really only two top-end guys that must be used in all scenarios.
In Toronto’s pre-season opener against the Houston Rockets in Japan on Tuesday morning, there were glimpses of the possibilities at shooting guard and small forward as a slew of players got a chance to show what they can bring to the table.
It’s nice for the Raptors to be in Tokyo and see one of the world’s great cities and all it has to offer.
Noted baseball fan Nick Nurse was headed to the park to catch a game on Wednesday night, Kyle Lowry said he’d found some cool shopping sites hidden away, and Marc Gasol talked about the trip being a nice weeklong bonding adventure for the team.
That’s all well and good, and expanding “the brand” to the far reaches of the world is never a bad thing, nor is getting some work in away from a monstrous gaggle of local media. But there are basketball considerations to be taken into account. By the time the Raptors fly back to North America, half of their pre-season games will have been played and it will be less than two weeks until they start defending their NBA championship for real.
Work must be done, and to hear Nurse talk from Tokyo on Wednesday there is much work to do.
“I’ve got some concerns,” he said during a media session after the team worked out between Tokyo games against the Houston Rockets. “I know there were some people that we’re going to need to rely on that made a lot of defensive mistakes.
“You know me well enough to know that I don’t really like it when our game plan is not followed and you can’t execute (and) you’re making those mistakes.”
The compressed pre-season has added a measure of urgency for the NBA coach, so Nurse will not be alone in his desire for more rapid improvement after a summer away. The Raptors are in the majority of teams that are only playing four exhibition games — teams used to play six to eight — and that’s put added pressure on each game.
Everyone knows Toronto’s ceiling this season is based heavily on how much better Pascal Siakam can get after already being named the NBA’s most improved a year ago, but Fred VanVleet is a key player too.
VanVleet isn’t shy to include himself in that conversation and did so when asked about how the Raptors will handle expectations and building on the title run.
“We’ve done it at the highest level so it’s not so much about proving it anymore, it’s more about putting together complete games,” VanVleet said.
“Trying to put together a little package of what you can expect throughout the year (in the pre-season games). Gotta stay healthy, just try to be healthy night in and night out and for our team to have a lot (of success), obviously me and Pascal will probably be a big part of that,” he said. “We won’t necessary have to carry a load every day, but we need to be pretty good every single night and hopefully we can do that.”
“You have to consider the market and free-agent class when making these decisions. For example, if you look at the market next summer, there are a few teams that will have cap space and there isn’t much of a free-agent class. There’s a big incentive for a lot of these guys [who are up for extensions] like Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown and Buddy Hield to wait because the 2020 free-agent class is pretty weak, so it’s possible that they could play their way into a max contract or near-max contract. If Siakam waits and plays well, he could potentially be the top free agent available next summer. Brown is about to have an increased role in Boston, so the same thing applies for him; he could play his way into a max contract. They’d only need to win over one team with a lot of cap space. And, historically, when teams have cap space, they’ll spend it – even if the free-agent class is weak.”
Send me any Raptors content: [email protected]