Point-Counterpoint: Bold Raptors Predictions

34 mins read
Trung Ho/trungho.ca

There is very little use or substance to predictions.  Anyone can make them simply by saying something they think will happen.  It’s often boring.

 

After all, in order for a prediction to be really good it has to fulfill two purposes simultaneously:

 

Be accurate.

Be bold.

 

The accuracy we can only every truly gauge in the future, but the boldness is where most predictions can fall flat.  Too often what is bold to one person is flat/normal to another.  So for that reason I enlisted Louis Zatzman for a prediction battle to see if what each of us believes has any substance or courage.

 

Let’s throw down the gauntlet with a few of our hottest Raptors Predictions for 2019-20.

 

Matt: Let’s start of with what may be a softer one, although the devil is in the detail of it.  I believe the Raptors will finish with the 3rd best defensive rating in the NBA, behind only Philadelphia and Utah.

 

Perhaps this brings a little more heat than I’m giving it credit for, but I’m reasonably confident in it unless the Raptors undertake a roster overhaul at some point that season.

 

But if Masai and company choose at any point to trade away a vet like Kyle Lowry or Marc Gasol it could easily throw a wrench into any of these.  So let’s just move forward with that disclaimer (unless you predict otherwise?).

 

I, like many, have some concerns about where the Raptors offence will come from after losing two key contributors like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, but despite losing two elite defenders they still have the horses to dominate on the defensive side.

 

Along with bringing back high level defenders like Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and others, the Raptors will also see the return of OG Anunoby to the starting line-up.  Last season was a nightmare year for OG both on and off the court, dealing with a variety of injuries and the death of his father, and the hope is that he can take another leap in his development after a rough season.

 

The Raptors also brought in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a stout defender in his own right, and Stanley Johnson who at least has the physical tools to contribute defensively.  Even rookie Terence Davis can likely contribute if given the opportunity.

 

Louis: Hey, you can’t start with a 100mph fastball. Like you say, it’s important to ease into this thing. I agree with you that for predictions like offensive or defensive ratings, we have to assume roster continuity. It’s too many variables otherwise. And for the record, I do mostly agree with this boldish prediction.

 

Most of the Raptors’ elite defenders from last season will return this year, and I think you might even be underrating Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as a defender. He’s not just stout, but a terror. He will wreak havoc as a switchy big or even as part of a gigantic defensive unit alongside Siakam and Gasol. Siakam will probably improve, although that’s difficult, and we saw in the playoffs that an engaged Marc Gasol is still a real DPOY candidate. The Raptors can still roll out plus defenders at every position, even if they go nine or ten deep, depending on the rotation.

 

However, the Raptors will miss Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Leonard turned in one of the great playoff performances on the defensive side of the ball, but in the regular season, he mostly took things easy. The Raptors managed a top-5 defensive rating last season without major contributions from Leonard. Danny Green, however, was Toronto’s most consistent defensive performer in the regular season. He did everything well, jittering with guards and banging with wings, causing trouble with deflections, and playing in almost every game. He always took opponents’ best guard or wing, depending on who was more important offensively. Green will be missed. Also to the Raptors’ detriment, some teams could improve on the defensive end, like the Indiana Pacers, who turned Bojan Bogdanovic into Malcolm Brogdon. Other teams could retain a top-3 identity, like the Milwaukee Bucks. There are enough teams jostling at the top that even a great defensive season from the Raptors could result in them falling out of the top three. Still, I think Toronto’s defense will be fantastic.

 

Boldness: Two Ibaka thumbs down out of five

Correctness: Three OG Anunoby bounceback seasons (he wears number three) out of five

 

But you were right to say that the Raptors might have some offensive struggles. In fact, that leads to my woeful prediction: The Raptors will have a bottom-15 offense.

 

Okay, this might be crazy. But the Raptors lack initiators. As long as Kyle Lowry is on the floor, the Raptors will have a good-to-great offense chugging along. His pick-and-roll mastery is that dynamic. But Lowry can’t play 80 games if the Raptors intend to make it in the playoffs (hint: they do), and he can’t play 38 minutes a game anymore. When Lowry hits the bench, can Pascal Siakam be a primary that boosts those around him? I believe he can score efficiently with an increased usage. But his playmaking needs to take a big jump for him to uphold an entire offense. Even if Siakam does take a jump, there will be nights when Lowry’s jumper doesn’t fall, and the team will score 80ish points. Too many things have to go right for the Raptors to have even a good offense.

 

Please say sike?

 

Matt:  Ooh, I like this one and was going to go with something similar later on.  It’s a touch spicy but also feels highly realistic.  Based on our first two predictions it seems safe to assume we both expect the Raptors to build their identity on the defensive side of the ball and to struggle on the offensive side.

 

There are offensive questions about each of the Raptors new pieces, whether it be shooting from Stanley Johnson or anything accept fast break buckets from RHJ.  The team has some…limitations.

 

And while I do largely agree with you, this feels just a touch low and I’m supposed to be the contrarian.  It wouldn’t shock me to see Toronto end up in the bottom half of the league for offence, but I feel just a touch more comfortable saying they land between 10-15.  I’m hopeful that both Siakam and Fred take another step in their ability to create for themselves and others.  Granted, I have no expectation that Fred maintains what we say against Bucks and Warriors in the playoffs, but he’ll outpace last year’s regular season.

 

I also expect Nurse to run more sets through Gasol when Lowry is out of the game, as the Raptors have a variety of cutters who can work off of Gasol in the high post.

 

Boldness: RHJ’s Draft Night Suit

Correctness: Kyle Lowry’s 3 Point Percentage.

 

To combat your negativity I’ll be optimistic (foolish?) with my next prediction: OG Anunoby will be the second straight Raptor to win Most Improved.

 

Let me start with some honesty, I only partially believe this and recognize it likely won’t happen (and preseason somewhat supports the disbelief of a coming leap, at least on offence), but I’ve always been an OG believer and I’ve got his back here.

 

Nurse and Masai both went out of their way to praise OG’s growth from this summer during Media Day, and I’m naturally a sucker.  I far too easily want to believe in workout videos and muscle watch, but this goes beyond that.OG had a nightmare of a season last year, and also had to make a big role adjustment with the acquisition of Kawhi.  From starting as a rookie to the bench as a sophomore.  This year he should return to the starting line-up and a consistent role.  His cutting should pop when working with Gasol, and having a more dynamic Siakam alongside of him should provide open looks.

 

I’m expecting a big year and I’ve already grown accustomed to trophies each spring.  You know you believe too.

 

Louis: You’re deep in your bag on only the third prediction? I like it. You’re even deeper in your bag with the Hollis-Jefferson draft night throwback, which, uhh hell yeah. (Those pants!)

 

The average Most Improved season is defined by a meaty jump in points per game. Pascal Siakam is the rare guy who also made leaps across the board, including efficiency, but he probably would have won even without that. Efficiency doesn’t really matter. It’s a dumb award. The average winner has his per-36 stats stay similar, but his minutes take a big leap. With that in mind, let’s look at what OG Anunoby might need in order to compete.

 

Over the last five years, the average leap in points per game for Most Improved winners — keep in mind it’s been a hella strong five years for the award — is 8.7. If Anunoby added 8.7 points per game to his average, he would sit at 15.7. I suppose that’s in the realm of possibility, but it feels out of reach.

 

Anunoby does have some things going for him. He’s entering his third year, which is the most common time to win the award. He has a far more open pathway to minutes than he has in previous years. He averaged just 20 minutes per game in both seasons so far, and if that leaps to, say, 34, there’s a chance Anunoby’s numbers improve across the board. At this point, I trust his jumper to be relatively consistent, but if he’s added a much tighter handle, then that’s the only way he’ll create enough to put up those numbers.

 

Boldness: Marc Gasol’s bottle of rose, I guess, if we’re dropping the whole ‘out of five’ situation.

Correctness: Serge Ibaka’s 2018-19 3-point percentage

 

I guess I’m the negative one, then. So be it! Prediction: Kawhi Leonard is booed when he returns to Toronto

 

Let me start with: he shouldn’t be. Obviously. Leonard deserves nothing but love from Toronto until the end of time. That’s what championships do. But Leonard spurned the largest outpouring of love I’ve ever seen from city to athlete. He bailed when Toronto was offering him the moon and stars, and free condos to boot. People have short memories, and it’s probable that the Clippers will be in a better position come December 11 than the lowly Raptors. (Of course, it’s possible that’s not true, and wink wink might even be a prediction coming up.) I could see a combination of anger at his leaving, disappointment with Raptors losing, and general malaise that is part of the human condition all combining to result in a hefty smattering of boos when Leonard is introduced to the Scotiabank Arena crowd for the first time since winning the championship.

 

Matt:  Glad to hear you’re an OG believer too, and I’ll gladly accept a 29 percent chance that I’m correct on this.

 

As for your call on Kawhi being booed, it depends on what type of boos you are expecting.  I’m sure there will be some in the crowd that will let it rain down to the best of their ability, but they are fools and will be drowned out by the majority that will give him the standing ovation he deserves.  Or at least that’s what I expect, but I could be off base.

 

With this being a prediction though I’m guessing you mean the majority of fans will boo him, which I find wild.

 

Boldness: Masai predicting a Toronto NBA Championship

Correctness: OG Anunoby predicting a repeat

 

I think I went too hard, too fast with my OG MIP prediction.  I’ll let you decide the heat though.  Prediction: Stanley Johnson fails to consistently crack the Raptors rotation and is moved by the trade deadline.

 

With the depth of the roster I’m guessing Nurse will regularly mess around with his lineups, bringing players in and out of the rotation, but there will still be a consistent top 10:

 

PG: Lowry, Fred

SG: Norm, Thomas, Davis

SF: OG

PF: Siakam, RHJ

C: Gasol, IBaka

 

Even after this top 10 I would guess that Boucher and potentially McCaw are used more regularly than Stan.  This would be a disappointing result for Johnson considering the second year player option he received this summer, but my guess is he’d still be in demand near the trade deadline for a team in need of wing depth.  Even if he is more of a theoretical defender than an actual stopper.

 

And while his player option for 2020-21 isn’t ideal for the team acquiring him, the disappointing 2020 free agent class likely this is less of a concern as teams prioritize 2021.

Louis: Wow, no love for my bitter fan theory. To be fair, it was a dumb prediction.

 

You know what’s not a dumb prediction? Yours. In fact, it’s almost too obvious. Toronto does have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to end of bench talent. Guys like Matt Thomas (shooting), Stanley Johnson (wing defense), Pat McCaw (guard defense), and Chris Boucher (electric boogaloo) offer plenty of singular talents — I have Boucher with the most diverse skill-set here, so I probably shouldn’t include him — but don’t have the full package yet. I actually have Terence Davis higher on the depth chart than Matt Thomas; Davis could start some games at the 2 spot alongside Fred VanVleet if Lowry misses time early in the season.

 

So where does Stanley Johnson fit into this? It’s a fair question. He’s acknowledged his trouble shooting, and part of the reason he’s chosen Toronto is because the team hasn’t been as orthodox in its commitment to the arc. The team allowed plenty of midrange jumpshots last year, and in part, it won them the ship. Stanley Johnson won’t have the green light of a Kawhi Leonard, but he should be allowed to focus on his strengths (driving and finishing with strength) rather than his weaknesses (shooting). So I would guess we see more offensive juice from Johnson than we expect, but I agree, it’s a tough, uphill climb for minutes. Toronto has a lot of bodies, and there’s a lot of skill there. Johnson doesn’t seem like the rabble-rousing type if he doesn’t get minutes, so I’m not so sure he’ll be traded, but I do agree that his path to minutes is a narrow one.

 

Boldness: Danny Green’s dribbling ability

Correctness: Pascal Siakam’s dribbling ability

 

As long as we’re talking about minute distributions, here’s my next one: Chris Boucher will have a firm spot in the rotation by the end of the season.

 

This guy has improved dramatically. He was dominant in Rico Hines runs, which foreshadowed Pascal Siakam’s success last year. In fact, the two have fantastic chemistry, and Boucher even said to media that Siakam is the player on whom he models his game. They aren’t the same; Boucher is a better shooter, and he has more length on the defensive end. Of course, Boucher has miles to go before he’s at level of Siakam, but you can see the outline. He’s a ridiculous shot-blocker, and if the Raptors can harness even a fraction of Boucher’s unpredictable game, it would spell good things for the future.

 

Boucher needs to add strength. He can be bumped off his lines too easily, which matters for rebounding, but is most important for his finishing. He too often ended up on the ground last year when he should have finished over opponents. His frame can carry more core strength; he may not look like the Greek God that is Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he can tighten up his core without sacrificing any of his athletic advantages. Boucher also needs to add more awareness of the game around him. Too often last year, he rolled at the wrong angle or pace in the PnR, and he sometimes even ran into the back of his point guard as he snaked. Boucher hasn’t been playing basketball long, so this comes with time and practice. I hoped while watching the Rico Hines film that Boucher has figured out a lot of the intricacies of the game, but it’s tough to tell during pick up. But if Boucher does add that advanced understanding of the NBA game, then he deserves time on the floor. If Toronto trades one of its two veteran centers, Boucher is guaranteed a spot. But even without that, he could play 8-10 minutes.

 

Matt:  OK…I’m heavily intrigued on this one.  Both in regards to it as a prediction and the potential entertainment value of Slim Duck being a regular.  This is easily the boldest prediction you’ve made so far.  There are two basic parts to this prediction:

 

  1. Boucher will see regular game action
  2. Boucher will average 8+ minutes

 

I’m leaning towards accepting the second statement as true but am very torn on the first.  With load management seemingly on the slate for Marc Gasol (after the deep spring run and World Cup action) there will be a fair share of games where the Raptors will be without their starting centre.

 

With that being the case it’s unlikely (and would be unwise) for the Raptors to increase Serge’s minutes, as his minutes should also be monitored.  This will leave plenty of games where Boucher reaches 20+ minutes (assuming he avoids foul trouble).  Add in some stretches of injury replacement or foul trouble for teammates and his minute average could exceed 8 with some ease.

 

But to play in the majority of games he likely needs to be in the top 10-11 rotation players.  There are 9 that I expect to be ahead of him:

 

  1. Lowry
  2. Fred
  3. Siakam
  4. Gasol
  5. Ibaka
  6. OG
  7. Norm
  8. RHJ
  9. Terence Davis

 

This means that Boucher would need to beat out 2 or 3 of Matt Thomas, Stanley Johnson, and Patrick McCaw for minutes.

 

The accuracy of this prediction will depend entirely on Boucher’s shot.  If he can help stretch the floor for a team in need of spacing, you have likely hit this one out of the park.  With a reliable jumpshot he can capably steal minutes from RHJ.  You may have sold me on it though.

 

Boldness: OG putting Ibaka on a poster during the Montreal open scrimmage

Correctness: Coin Flip

 

Prediction: Lowry and VanVleet will combine for over 1100 3 point attempts.

 

Lowry attempted a career high 596 in 2017-18, while VanVleet set his season record last year at 296.  That leaves 208 attempts needed to meet this prediction.

 

With the Raptors needing to fill the shot void left by Kawhi and Danny, there will be plenty of shots available for the incumbents and a need for shooting.  My one hesitancy with this prediction is games played.  Two seasons ago Lowry played 78 games in order to reach 596 attempts.  The Raptors will need health and a near full season from both players to reach this number, but Lowry’s usage should rise again and Fred will likely let them fly after his run in the Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

 

Louis: I realized I had a lot more to say about the Boucher thing, so I put together a piece on the topic. Heads up, I go a little overboard. Also, side note: I’m happy to see you slot Terence Davis into the rotation above Matt Thomas now.

I like your 3-point prediction quite a bit, even if I think it’s unlikely they hit so high a number. Still, it’s solid but not obvious, and it makes a lot of sense with the way this Raptors team will have to play offense. First, 1100 3-point attempts is more than the Bucks’ two top 3-point shooters attempted together last year; in fact, it’s more than the total of any duo on any team other than the Warriors (Steph and Klay), the Rockets (Harden and … anyone, he had over 1000 by himself), the Hornets (Kemba and Marvin Williams), and the Thunder (George and Westbrook).

 

Lowry may reach, say, 500. I’m doubtful he gets near the 600 range; he’ll have a higher usage rate this season, yes, but he probably won’t play in enough games to be in the top-10 for attempted 3s in the league. I agree that VanVleet’s attempts will rise. He found plenty of juice with his stepback in the playoffs, and I imagine that carries over as a key offensive tool for the Raptors when Lowry and/or Siakam is on the bench. As you say, VanVleet was near the 300 range last year, but he was playing fewer than 30 minutes a game, and he only played in 64 games. If he take his per-36 attempted 3s and give him 75 games played, VanVleet takes around 450 3s. That’s probably more in range with VanVleet’s attempts this year, given a higher usage rate, larger minute total, and hopefully a healthy season. So I say the duo can look to break 1000 — and, hey, plenty of teams don’t have a duo that breaks that barrier — but 1100 is probably out of a reach.

 

Boldness: Fred VanVleet stepback 3s to close out the NBA Finals

Correctness: Norman Powell stepback 3s to reach the NBA Finals

 

We’re nearing the end here, so let’s get spicy. As a nod to my earlier hint, this involves the departed Kawhi Leonard. Prediction: The Toronto Raptors sweep the Los Angeles Clippers 2-0 in the regular season series.

 

The Clippers have some roster construction issues. Namely, they don’t have a single great passer on the team, and there’s really only a small handful of good ones. Their offense could get stagnant in a hurry. Furthermore, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are healing from serious injuries. Furthermore furthermore, Leonard will have plenty of load management days, and he also doesn’t play defense in the regular season. All that to say, the Clippers aren’t going to be the regular season juggernaut people expect. (That will be a different story in the playoffs.)

 

Toronto, on the other hand, has every reason to try to dominate the Clippers, as they did in the regular season series last year. The Raptors won last year’s two games by a combined 42 points, and Leonard only played in one game. Of course, Leonard will probably play in at least one game this year (the Toronto one), and it will be for the other side. But the Raptors will be hugely motivated to win those contests, and the Clippers will have less on the line. Motivation matters in the regular season, as does chemistry, which will be another factor in Toronto’s favour.

 

Matt: The Clippers are my favourite to advance to the Finals out West, but I’d agree with the potential regular season limitations.  They have a lot to figure out chemistry wise with the offseason changes, and they enter with health questions surrounding both Kawhi and Paul George.

 

I still expect them to end up with home court in the first round simply based on talent alone, but Rivers has a unique coaching challenge ahead of him.  Inserting two star wing players, including one that dominates in isolation, to a successful team of role players alters everything.  Will be fascinating to watch develop.

 

If I had to pick a side all things equal I’d agree with your 2-0 prediction, but while you account for likely rest/injury on the Clippers side of the equation you do not for the Raptors.

 

Most likely scenario between two strong teams is a split, so you got a little spice here but I don’t think you’re far off the truth.

 

Boldness: A medium salsa.

Correctness: Norman Powell Preseason 3 Point Attempt

 

Only time will tell how bold or accurate these predictions are, and while neither Louis or I are as bold as OG Anunoby it’s still fun to prognosticate and examine the season ahead from different perspectives  But the most important part of this all is that I clearly have Louis beat.  It’s in the bag.

 

What bold predictions do you have for the season ahead?

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