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Roundtable: Previewing what’s next for the Toronto Raptors

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TORONTO, ON - MARCH 28: Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors and Pascal Siakam #43 celebrate during the first half of their NBA game against the Boston Celtics at Scotiabank Arena on March 28, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Ok, alright, that’s fine, ok. Part 2 of Raptors Republic Regale…

The future for the Raps is bright. I mean, Scottie is a future All-Star and maybe even a future top-5 player. I’m not sure but I know that there are several things to look forward to when discussing the Toronto Raptors.

Finishing with the 5th seed, does this season provide insight into what we can expect for the years to come?

Don:

Definitely, the league should know this is a playoff team, and will be a tough matchup for anyone.

Adon:

Miami’s days may be numbered. Philly might have to reboot. Brooklyn’s utterly unpredictable. Toronto has a chance with linear and dynamic growth from their individual players to become an elite Eastern Conference team for years to come.

Lucas:

Absolutely. This is a team that is still rebuilding and this season shows that the ambitions for the years to come can be very big. When you know that young players like Precious, Scottie, Gary or even OG will continue to progress…I’m really looking forward to seeing how they will perform with a few more years of experience. All this with a coach who (I hope) will continue with the franchise for several more years. The future is bright in Toronto and this is just the beginning of a new era.

Louis:

I do wonder if Toronto’s approach to the offensive end came about because they aren’t that good at traditional offense. If so, how high could they finish by sort of eschewing shooting, pick and rolls, passing, and all the other normal things good teams do on offense? Maybe Vision 6’9 is the future, or maybe it’s just really good coaching for a team that is missing pieces. If the latter is true, seeds 3-5 are probably about as high as a team like that could go. We’ll find out in the next few years as Scottie Barnes becomes more and more of a superstar.

Brendan:

If anything I think it speaks to how unpredictable the NBA can be. One long-term injury or bi trade can change the standings drastically, and let’s not forget that player development isn’t linear. There will be bumps in the road going forward and some players will develop faster than others while some players won’t develop much more at all. I think the Raptors have a lot more weaknesses to address but it’s less bleak than it was at this point last year with Scottie Barnes being ahead of schedule. That said, it’ll be tough to improve much beyond the 5th seed without actually addressing the weaknesses they have, assuming the four teams above them stay the course as well.

Instead of focusing on trying to maximize a window in the next 2-3 years, I think the Raptors should focus on replenishing their depth and young talent through the draft (acquire more picks instead of giving them away for vets please, we’re not at that point competitively yet) as well as developing the pieces they already have. Then look to seriously make a run from there once they have a full roster that they’re locked in and comfortable with.

Matt D.:

Yes! Something I really like about the Raptors issue with luring big free agents is it makes them have to be better at trading and drafting. Kyle for Precious I think is only gonna get sweeter. Drafting Barnes and Banton has been so successful so far. Future is bright. And finishing 5th really has to give some credit to Nurse. He may of inherited a Porsche in his first season, but look at what he can do with a Corolla.

Freddie:

I think this season brings to light the long term vision of the franchise. This team is the most international team I’ve ever seen, and incredibly long in a way I’m not sure the league has ever seen. This is positionless basketball at perhaps its most positionless-est and the rest of the league is going to have a tough time containing and mimicking this style. Good things are coming and this is just the beginning.

Adam:

I believe we can expect to be back in the top half of the east with the potential to move into the 3 seeds depending on how guys like Scottie, Precious, and GTJ develop. I’m sure Masai wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger for a malcontent star if the opportunity is right. Aside from being good, I expect us to play exactly how we play now – quick, long, strong, fast and an absolute nightmare to play against as an opponent.

Kyle:

The league is so talented that I hesitate to make any predictions about next year. Just look at the Hawks, everyone had them destined for greatness after their deep playoff run last year and they couldn’t even crack the top 8 in the regular season. If I have to make a prediction I’ll give the Raps the 4 seed in 2023.

Matt S.:

Where I think we can have hope for the future is less the results and more so the journey.  This team looked markedly different as the season went on, and each core player made key development steps.  We started the year with a reliable core of 3 players (Siakam, VanVleet, Anunoby), and are ending it with greater expectations for Precious Achiuwa, Scottie Barnes, and Dalano Banton.  Plus Chris Boucher if he returns.

Jamar:

There’s not that much of a difference between the Raptors and the other elite teams in the East. They will give a lot of teams hell. And depending on growth by Scottie/OG/Gary/Precious (i think Pascal and Fred have peaked) and whatever moves Masai can make to compliment the core (shooters? a centre?) this team will be in contention for years.

Manny:

Like I said in part 1, I had no expectations coming into the season. Masai and Bobby on the other hand…

I’ve never been more proud to associate with the Toronto Raptors. This is one of the most respected and revered organizations in all of sports. They have one goal: win – something they’ll be doing a lot of over the next several years.

Most Raptors loyalists wanted the 76ers in the 1st round. Who was your preferred matchup choice and why?

Don:

Other than Cleveland and Chicago, Philly was the preferred matchup because I believe we have the best chance to win. Boston would’ve been more entertaining.

Adon:

76ers. Don’t care about the “superstar” advantage. In war, your skill and training is only ever as effective as your team morale. 
 
If Toronto throws a quick nut-punch, the 76ers might just puke on themselves and never recover. The ingredients are plush: Harden’s pathetic playoff history, a weak bench, an anti-vaxxer, a disgruntled, stubborn coach, and a superstar centre who hates pesky Raptors.

Lucas:

I was also one of the people who wanted the 76ers in the 1st round, for me it was the most accessible team for the Raptors for several reasons. It is a team that I know very very well for having followed Philly very closely in recent seasons because I am a fan of Ben Simmons. In my opinion, one of the first big problems of the Sixers is the fact that the team lost big assets in the Harden trade: Curry was indispensable for Philly and brought an undeniable spacing, Drummond was an excellent backup for Embiid and did a very good job in Philly. In exchange for these two huge losses, the Sixers got a star back with Harden but there is bound to be some adjustment time with such a radical change in the roster. To make matters worse, the 76ers are a very poorly coached team. Doc Rivers has never been good tactically and has lost his aura with the players, he even allows himself shameful outbursts about his own players with a recent press conference about Paul Reed, saying: “We’re not going on a Paul Reed victory tour. We’re trying to win a world championship, man.” when Reed would be the best backup center for Embiid. I sincerely think that Nurse’s coaching can make all the difference in this series against Doc and that it is mainly there that it will be played. Plus Thybulle won’t be able to make the trips to Toronto, again very good news for the Raptors.

Louis:

I’m with these most Raptors loyalists. 76ers are my picks, sirs. They lack big wings to defend Toronto’s stars, and they play a slow, grinding style on both ways. Their identity is so different from Toronto that whoever asserts style wins — my favourite kind of series.

Brendan:

Smart money says the Sixers. The Raptors certainly match up worse against the Celtics, Heat, and Bucks. The Bulls were out of the picture a few weeks ago so I won’t even count them.

The Raptors definitely win the coaching battle among the two teams, and Harden’s recent cold stretch has been a point of optimism for Raptors hopefuls. I don’t believe the absence of Matisse Thybulle in games 3,4, and potentially 6 will be a major game changer – but the Raptors should take what they can get nonetheless.

Matt D.:

I wanted Chicago. Mainly ‘cause they have looked less dominant during the second half of the season, and I think our D is better or CAN be better than theirs. And if we had to lose in the first round, I feel like I would be a little less sad if it was DeMar doing it to us? Really want that guy to get a ring, but not by having to go through Toronto to get it.

Freddie:

I wanted the Sixers. They don’t move the ball that well and the raptors have the opportunity to overwhelm Philly with their size and athleticism. The other homecourt teams in the east all have the ability to counter the aggressive play of the Raps.

Adam:

I preferred the 76ers based on how we match up. I also don’t think much of Doc and Tobias and think both of them are overrated. I also think Harden is either injured or even worse, not interested.

Kyle:

I always loved the Philly matchup because Nick Nurse has historically been great at minimizing Embiid’s greatness, and I’ve been driving the Philly bandwagon ever since the Chicago matchup became unrealistic.

Matt S.:

I believe the 76ers give the Raptors the best chance to advance, and seeing Philadelphia sports fans melt down afterward is another bonus.  But the idea of bouncing the Celtics from the playoffs (even if unlikely) was also exceptionally appeal.

Still, I would have picked 76ers.  Harden looks like a shell of himself and has no mismatches to target, and outside of Embiid no one truly scares me.  Plus, it’s always a good idea to face a Doc Rivers team in the playoffs.

Jamar:

Sixers were my preferred choice,  it was originally Chicago but they lost too much. Doc has consistently failed in the playoffs. Harden can be weird. Embiid can be rattles. I didn’t want to see Milwaukee this time around. Definitely didn’t want to see Boston or Miami.

Manny:

Philly or Chicago. Although Toronto may not have the best player, they’ve shown time and time again that winning “by committee” is when they’re strongest and the 76ers and Bulls just don’t have much depth. When you factor in that Chicago has spiralled in the last few months of the season, I can see them being a first-round exit regardless of who they face.

What should the Raptors fear most about the 76ers?

Don:

James Harden time travelling to 2018

Adon:

Tobias Harris.
Joel Embiid is gonna get his. Harden and the Raptors D will be a see-saw conflagration. Maxey’s gonna be a handful. Those are all sunk costs.
 
Tobias is paramount to 76er success. If he gets hot and confident (he hasn’t been), his scoring and shooting is the salve Embiid and Harden desperately need. Frantic defensive schemes can only account for so many scorers on the floor at one time.
Philly’s bench (28th) is also nearly as putrid as Toronto’s (30th). A functional Tobias might be enough to keep Philly afloat while Embiid rests.

Lucas:

If Thybulle could have played every game I would have said he was the biggest and most underrated threat to the Raptors because he is really capable of mentally and physically weighing down Toronto players. So I’m going to say Maxey. To me he’s the most dangerous player for the Raptors because he’s really capable of causing a lot of problems for the defense and can totally catch fire and become unstoppable at any time. He’s a player I’ve loved since he was drafted and not for nothing, a pure baller.

Louis:

The Raptors should most fear that the 76ers are more efficient from basically everywhere on the floor, in every type of play. Embiid and Harden may very well be the two best players in the series. Hard hill to climb!

Brendan:

An MVP candidate by the name of Joel Embiid comes to mind. The Raptors won’t have Marc Gasol coming through that door to save the day. Even though the Raptors took the regular season series three games to one, the playoffs are an entirely different beast and I think Embiid is sick of the early exits. With no more Ben Simmons weighing him down, we’ll see. If Nurse gameplans to shut Embiid down by tripling him every possession, the Sixers have other weapons that can hurt you. Tyrese Maxey will also prove to be a thorn in the Raptors’ side. He’s incredibly crafty with an elite floater – those types of guards typically give the Raptors trouble.

Matt D.:

Joel Embiid. We made the man cry. The Process is starting to creak at the knees. He’s gonna go hard during these playoffs.

Freddie:

They should fear the gamesmanship of the Sixers. It’s frustrating to play against guys like Embiid and Harden. If every bad foul call is an emotional ordeal for this young raps squad, it could be a frustrating series.

Adam:

I’d say spotting them a lead. The 76ers are frontrunners so it’ll be important to not provide them a lead whether that is in a game or in the series.

Kyle:

James Harden finding his form. Right now it is almost a guarantee that the Raps will win the minutes when Embiid isn’t on the floor. It’s like Philly is spotting Toronto 10 points to start the game. If Harden figures it out with Philly’s bench group, that margin will be diminished –– perhaps significantly.

Matt S.:

Is it too simple to answer Embiid?  Because that’s it.  In 2019 Joel Embiid was a +90 in the seven-game series against Toronto, a series where the Raptors outscored the Sixers by a total of 13 points.

Jamar:

If Philly shooters make shots, it will be harder to do all the trapping on Embiid and Harden. Offensively the Raptors shouldn’t be worried.

Manny:

Embiid. Arguably the best big man in the game. Watching him against Toronto is always fun and should be in textbooks.

James Harden seems to be a step or two slower and historically, he’s no-shown for playoff runs. Is there a reason to believe that he’ll get it going in this series?

Don:

Too much focus on Embiid may open things up for Harden.

Adon:

Nope.

Lucas:

Harden is the most uncertain factor on the Philly side, we know he is known to struggle in the playoffs, but we also know he is capable of going into beast mode and forming an unstoppable duo with Embiid. His level will depend a lot on his desire but also on his agreement with Embiid on the series.

Louis:

In most playoff series for Harden, he’s been the entire focus of defensive gameplans. Like, every choice, every rotation, every blitz had his name on the scouting report. But now it’s Embiid’s name that carries more weight. Harden might get to — he hasn’t in the regular season, so keep that in mind — move off the ball, attack some rotations, and get some easier buckets. If he can score easy, then Toronto is kind of screwed — he’s going to score hard plenty because he’s James Harden.

Brendan:

Having defended DeRozan and Lowry for so many years, I don’t really think it’s fair to assume certain players won’t show up in the playoffs. Some playoff series are incredibly matchup dependent, and if the Raptors focus too much on shutting out Embiid, that could lead to a few games where Harden picks up the slack. He’s still James Harden.

Matt D.:

James is playoff poison! He might start hot but, hey, look at what Tatum said about playing us in the bubble: hardest series he ever played. If they are going to get through the Raptors, it’s going to take a toll. Harden is gonna need straight-up electrolyte IV sessions.

Freddie:

James Harden is amazing. Sure, he looks a step slower and will be facing a ton of Raptors size, but he can pass the ball like very few guys that have ever played the game. The entire Sixers organization is under intense pressure, but James is under the most. His legacy is on the line and he might respond to the pressure.  

Adam:

I’m actually not worried about him at all. I remember watching the 76ers-Nets game right after he got traded and he pretty much differed the entire game. Besides being hurt and/or disinterested, he just looks like a player who doesn’t have “it” anymore.

Kyle:

Yes, absolutely. Every game they play Harden gets more time to familiarize himself with his teammates. I still legitimately believe James Harden can thrive, especially as a secondary creator working off of Embiid. Ultimately it’ll all come down to health.

Matt S.:

Doc Rivers has said Harden’s hamstring is not an issue, but he’s either washed or injured.  Something is clearly wrong, and he couldn’t even blow past Malachi Flynn.  I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, and I’d guess he puts in 2 strong performances.  His assist numbers may rival his scoring numbers, which is a bad sign.

Jamar:

I think Maxey is going to be the Sixers second leading scorer, not Harden. I’m curious if Harden has the explosion to get to the rim and not just foul bait, because I don’t see it right now. If he can’t, he’s gonna feel pressure he’s never felt before (although he denies this).

Manny:

Honestly, no. I just don’t see the passion whenever Harden plays. He doesn’t strike me as someone who wants the Larry OB. Sorry.

How many games and who wins?

Don:

Raptors in 6!

Adon:

Toronto in 6. 
 
FYI: 🧐 💰
 
Raps 4-0 (+2197)
Raps 4-1 (+1198)
Raps 4-2 (+474)
Raps 4-3 (+599)

Lucas:

I think Toronto will win this series in 6 games, with a very clean 4-2 where the 76ers still managed to pull out two games at home including one game quite early in the series and another where everything will line up for the 76ers and the Raptors will literally be unable to do anything. The games at the Wells Fargo Center are going to be very tough to come by but will be very important to take if the Raptors want to move on to the next round.

Louis:

Raps in six. Here’s my reason why.

Brendan:

If we look at it from a talent perspective, the Sixers have the best player, a great starting five, and they have the depth to give the Raptors problems. Historically, most observers would lean towards the Sixers – as Raptors fans should be well aware of how much talent impacts playoff games. I don’t know if I have enough faith in the Raptor’s depth and halfcourt offence in a seven game affair. I still have PTSD from the Boston series where Brad Stevens was essentially able to win by gameplanning and eliminating the Raptors’ ability to run in transition – and let’s be perfectly honest, this team is worse than the one that lost to Boston in 2020.

Doc Rivers, on the other hand, is not nearly as savvy as Brad Stevens. The most overrated coach in NBA history who somehow got a nod on the greatest coaches of all time list for getting carried to a ring by Kevin Garnett is 100% capable of messing this up for the Sixers. Nick Nurse, despite his hellish minutes allocation, can and will coach circles around Rivers. Pascal Siakam has been playing in a superstar form since the all star break and Scottie Barnes is Scottie Barnes. A couple of hot games from Gary Trent can change the outlook of the series entirely. OG Anunoby being healthy could also be a swing factor.

Sixers in 7 is still my gut feeling.

Matt D.:

RAPS IN SEVEN. Scottie shoots to win it this time, but instead of Embiid crying, Harden’s beard just falls right off his face.

Freddie:

The Raptors win in 6.

Adam:

I have raptors in 6 closing out in front of the home crowd.

Kyle:

Raps in 7. Scottie solidifies his reputation as the next young star with a big game to close out the series.

Matt S.:

While it would be fun to add another blown 3-1 lead to Doc’s coaching record, I’ve got Raptors in 6.

Jamar:

Raptors in six. Split games 1-2, don’t lose at home.

Manny:

Ends in 6, in the 6, by the 6. (Raptors in 6 in case you didn’t get it.)

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