This is part one of a roundtable, wherein a collection of RR writers answer the same questions and, ideally, give different perspectives. It doesn’t always happen that way. You can find the second part here.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from pre-season? Ideally, something you didn’t know before.
I didn’t know that Stanley Johnson was such a rushed player. I did a feature on him, I watched a ton of his film and I was still floored by how erratic he was on offense.
Fred VanVleet is playing with the confidence of a champion, and his seemingly new efficiency from 3 really stood out. We saw it in Rico Hines videos from the summer, but it’s another thing to see it in an NBA context (even if it is preseason). Based on opening night it appears like this is just our new reality, but Fred is a flamethrower from deep and I have to believe he stole absorbed some of Steph’s shooting in the Box and 1.
I think I went into preseason assuming the Raptors rotation would be bigger than it ended up being. The Raptors bringing in guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson gave me the impression that they might head into the season ready to experiment with lineups and combinations and figure out who fits on the fly, and instead the team looks to start the season with a short bench and possibly expand if the other guys earn their way. That part of Nurse’s approach was unexpected, but it’s interesting and I’m curious what the payoff will be for the team.
How scary good the main rotation still is. In the final preseason game against the Nets, the starting seven along with Terence Davis were a plus-22 during the game. The championship hangover was not apparent as six of the seven players returned from last year’s run. I also didn’t realize how good Terrence Davis was going to be until the preseason. It paved the way for him being our eighth man.
I guess I was surprised about how the minutes were divided. Nurse clearly doesn’t trust Stanley Johnson or RHJ yet, evidenced by the fact that he stuck with an eight-man rotation in game one, while he does trust undrafted guard Terence Davis (who looks good but everyone relax, he’s still a rookie). Otherwise, not all that surprising of a pre-season.
FVV is one of favourite players in the league and I really learned over the summer/pre-season how good he really is. I watched a few of clips from the Rico Hines runs (in UCLA), and he was literally destroying people. I knew he was good but I never knew he was THAT good.
I don’t hold much stock in preseason performances. But it was really encouraging to see some of our new guys show the promise that they did. Matt Thomas has a buttery-smooth stroke, Dwyane Hernandez moves up and down the court at a clip that fits well in today’s NBA, and Terence Davis can do this. I don’t think any of it helps Toronto in the immediate future, but it’s definitely something to build on.
My biggest takeaway was positivity and unabashed optimism. I mean, Fred VanVleet is just fantastic now! Serge Ibaka is the best player in the NBA? Pascal Siakam walked his way into prime Scottie Pippen numbers! Teams always look good in the regular season, but the Raptors looked good good. I know at some point reality will hit the Raptors in the face, because it always does, but the opening night just confirmed that the Raptors have the best duo in the NBA.
How did you feel about Nick Nurse publicly going in on the new guys at practice?
I wasn’t surprised, but I liked it. Blake and I talked about this on the Weekly Podcast (go listen hehe) – the championship validates all the work that goes into this franchise. These guys work hard, and when you’re a champ you have carte blanche to some degree. I’m not surprised that Nurse flexed the muscles of his (and the team’s) accomplishments. I’d expect more comments like this down the road.
Nick “I’m a F***ing NBA Champion” Nurse is bring some energy and I’m here for it. I appreciate that he is calling the new players to meet the team effort level. And while some players/people wouldn’t respond well to such a call out I’m going to trust Nurse knows his personal well enough to make that call. With that said, the Raptors can’t play the season with just 8 rotation players like they did on opening night.
Loved it personally. Nurse understands the gap between the expectations and winning a Championship last year, and is clearly approaching this season with a certain seriousness of trying to bring the team back to contention status, and I like him establishing that clearly, and publicly, and making sure the message is received by the guys in the room. It’ll help figure out which of the new guys embraces that challenge.
I love it. Nick Nurse has done guitar cameos at concerts, sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game, became a GIF, but can also be a tough coach. The new players need to hear that to fit in to the Raptors roster, they need to adapt to the culture and identity of the team. Nurse cares about his players buying into the unified vision of hustling and working hard. The new guys are getting a dose of what it’s like to play for the defending champions, which will go a long way in their development.
Who doesn’t love to see Nick stunt on ’em?
Nurse won a championship so he can essentially do what he wants, and he is setting the bar high for this upcoming season. He expects his team to continue playing the same brand of basketball that they played last year, and the newcomers not giving enough effort isn’t all that shocking. With that being said, I hope both Stanley Johnson and RHJ crack the rotation because both have a lot of upside and could help this team if they buy in.
Personally, I liked it. I believe people should be held accountable and spoken to directly to ensure transparency and that everyone is on the same page. It really sets a precedent that players need to live up to a certain standard in order to play on this team and maintain the established level of excellence. Hopefully, the new guys will respond positively from the situation and get better, both mentally and physically.
I love it. Kawhi, and the championship expectations he brought with him, may be gone, but the attitude that feeds a winning culture is not. With cold weather, customs and all the other stuff Toronto has working against them in the free agency market, the best thing Nurse and Co. can do to attract talent is promote an identity which demands effort out of its players. Establishing that tone with the new guys early, lays the foundation for making that happen.
In principle, I get it. Nurse knows that championships require players of focus and sheer will. He knows that his returners have such abilities. Do the new players? They haven’t shown it so far, and he wants to make it clear that they need to improve their efforts, both on and off the court, to match the guys already indoctrinated into the system. But it was pre-season, and Stanley Johnson’s confidence already seems shot, so is repeatedly calling him out in front of the media really the best way to improve his effort? These things can always be said behind closed doors. Nurse said before the Pelicans game that he learned over the off-season from Bill Belicheck that every practice needs to have higher intensity than games. Perhaps he’s trying to instill that culture.
Did opening night live up to your expectations?
Absolutely, the Raptors played a tight rotation – which meant only watching good players for the red and white – and the Pelicans are a fun team. Jrue is one of my favourite players, and the Raptors got to celebrate the chip, it was perfect.
We got a banner and we saw everyone get rings. That is enough to live up to my expectations. The joy and emotion was evident from Masai’s screams, to Serge’s tears, and Kyle’s smile. It was glorious. And as an aside, having each player’s name on the trim of the banner is a beautiful touch.
It lived up to my expectations and then some. It really was surreal having it hit home that the Raptors actually did win a championship, and the team did the ceremonies justice, and the moment had the weight it deserved. I cried.
It surpassed them. From the video that documented the playoff run, to handing out the rings and Kyle Lowry’s speech, culminating with the unveiling of the Banner. It brought back all the feels and emotions from June 13th, when the buzzer sounded that would signify the Raptors becoming NBA Champions. It helped that the Raptors defeated the Pelicans in overtime to cap off an incredible night.
Yes. I missed basketball so much. Emotional night for me on my couch.
The Raptors are going to be really good this year. We knew that, but they showed us why. They’re going to play hard every night, and guys like VanVleet, Siakam, OG, and Norm are going to play big roles on this team. Excited for the season.
It really did! I was lucky enough to be in the arena that night so it was pretty cool to get a replica championship ring. I just wish the entire day didn’t take almost 5 hours to complete. It felt like the championship parade all over again.
Hell yes. The energy in the building was incredible. It felt like all the fans who weren’t able to get their hands on Playoff or Finals tickets last year, made damn sure they weren’t missing out on the ring ceremony. The love showed for Kyle, Masai and the rest of the Dinos was only enhanced by an OT victory that saw our new franchise cornerstone explode for a spicy 34 & 18. Basketball is finally back.
Opening night was perfect. The rings were a perfect way to celebrate the end of 2018-19 and begin 2019-20, and I had the chance to chat with most of the team about what the rings meant to them personally.
What was your favourite moment from the ring / banner ceremony?
Jrue and Kyle met up for dap at center court and Jrue smacked Kyle on the a**. I was surprised no one picked up on it, it seemed like a moment curated for twitter.
Serge crying made me feel better about also crying. It felt so authentic and it was touching to see Ibaka let himself get caught up in the emotion of the accomplishment.
Everything about Kyle Lowry receiving his ring and unveiling the banner. It was just such a great moment for him, and something he deserves and I’m so glad he was able to get that in Toronto. He is the Toronto Raptors, and this was the moment that we all wanted for him.
Kyle Lowry’s speech. By thanking the fans of Toronto and Canada, saying that they “couldn’t have done it without them” was very special. Lowry has always played with a chip on his shoulder and last year at times was overshadowed by Kawhi’s dominant performance. Now, signed to a one year extension, Lowry is making a case for being the best Raptors player in franchise history. In that signature moment of the banner ceremony, Lowry encapsulated all the emotions of what the Championship meant to the entire country.
Serge. Everything Serge did was great. Love him.
My favourite part was seeing Kyle get his ring. He’s been so loyal to us throughout the years so it’s amazing to see him finally rewarded. Also, over the years, he’s received a ton of hate at times for whatever reason so to see him adored by our entire fan base was special. I really believe last year’s championship run gave him complete immunity and can’t wait until we put a statue of him in front of Scotiabank Arena.
Kyle and Masai walking out to get their jewellery warmed my heart. But I’ll tell you what I’m not going to forget – Kawhi’s absence in that hype video. The Raptors put together a hype reel recounting the team’s playoff run which ran for over 5 minutes. They showed Kawhi Leonard twice. Am I missing something or is that guy not the reason we had a ring ceremony in the first place? I thought it was plain disrespectful and a bit of a shank to the greatest single season that a Toronto Raptor has ever played. We’re better than that.
My favourite moment was when the banner was unfurled. I was chatting with Malcolm Miller before the game, and I asked a stupid question about comparing the rings and the banner, and he gave a brilliant answer, saying that the rings were more significant to the individual while the banner meant more to the organization. But when the banner was unfurled was when the weight of the moment seemed to hit Fred and Serge, and it was the most emotional moment for many of the Raptors themselves. It was a surprise for me, and it was a rare moment of total authenticity.