Roundtable of One: The Interlocutor’s Questionnaire

They say you need more than one person to do a roundtable. I say they don't know what they're talking about.

I didn’t get my stuff in for yesterday’s roundtable (Part 1, Part 2) even though I swear I had written it on time. I swear Louis, I swear! I just never sent it because I was too engrossed in House of Dragon. Dracarys man, just say Dracarys and get it over with. There won’t even be a need for a tenth episode, let alone a second season.

How would you rate Toronto’s offseason? 

What is our infatuation with rating things? I think I rate 10 things every week: food we eat, people who delivered the food, the refund process for the food (the Junior Chicken ain’t a Junior Chicken without the mayo), and just the other day I was asked to rate the rating experience. I think it stems from humans’ deep lack of understanding of everything around them, so we have to simplify it to a number which fits the mental models of our under-developed, stunted-at-10% brains.

So here we are now rating the Raptors off-season which I suppose was completely acceptable, if not lacking the fireworks of 2018 which every off-season will be compared to. The bar for great off-seasons is so high that everything else is bound to pale in comparison. We got Otto Porter Jr. who was the best available three-point shooter at the position, and seem to have gotten a serviceable young player in Christian Koloko.

I find relative comparisons easier to make than absolute ones, so if we compare this to 2021 when we got Scottie Barnes, it probably isn’t as good. But it’s better than 2020 when we didn’t have a pick and wandered down Aaron Baynes Ave. It’s also better than 2019 when we got Stanley Johnson and Matt Thomas. So relatively speaking it’s been a decent one.

Was it an exciting off-season which got me pumped for a season where we’re going to take a crack at the East? No, but I wasn’t expecting it to be either and Alain de Botton once said that the secret to happiness is to have low expectations. Maybe the trajectory to wherever we’re going is not an escalator but one of those low-angle ramps you find at the airport which takes one full minute to go up two steps. Those two steps were Otto and Koloko. Or as I like to call them, Kolotto.

Oh yeah, the rating. How does a B+ sound – did what what the professor said without going the extra mile.

Are you surprised the Raptors drafted Christian Koloko? Was there someone else you would have preferred at that spot?

I stopped pretending to know what I’m talking about when it comes to the draft a long time ago. I had my eyes on Caleb Houstan from Mississauga only because he was a 36% three-point shooter with good form, and we desperately need three-point shooting. He was taken the pick after by the Magic, so we got a poor man’s Suggs/Barnes situation going again.

I wasn’t surprised because Man they call Mac was high on him and had him pegged to go the Raptors. Maybe you should follow him. Or if you want a guy that has a mock draft printed on his bedsheets, try Brendan Stewart. Another reason for the lack of surprise was that he lived two doors down from Pascal Siakam, and Masai Ujiri’s been scouring Africa for basketball talent, and it would have been awfully hard to miss Koloko. And Ujiri’s been known to swing for the fences at #20 with Coboclo, so this was even less of a flyer.

Here’s the thing with the draft: most people’s draft information isn’t based on watching players play in games, but from:

  1. Watching YouTube highlights yourself (75%)
  2. People who watched the YouTube highlights (10%)
  3. People who watched the combine videos/reports (10%)
  4. People who watched March Madness (if your player was in it) (5%)
  5. People who watched the player play more than 5 games (5%)

Did those percentages make any sense? They didn’t, neither does my opinion on the draft.

How important do you think Rico Hines runs are?

In terms of predicting regular season wins? Zero. In terms of building a little camaraderie and team spirit? For sure. Does the former lead to the latter? Probably, but not to a high enough degree worth talking about. Is me asking questions and answering them right after annoying? You bet.

If anything though, it keeps the players in better shape heading into training camp than what they’d be if they were Mezcaling on the beach during that time. I speak from personal experience only.

Now that you’ve seen Koloko play Summer League and preseason, what do you expect from him in the short term? Long term?

Short-term: What is evident about Koloko is that he is extremely mobile and has a short little jumper in him which can be invaluable on those dump-offs when guys like Barnes and Fred get trapped in the middle. I love big men that can save possessions when they get dumped the ball like a hot potato and the guards just sit there and watch. Serge Ibaka was great at it, Khem Birch not so much, and Koloko remains to be seen.

He also has to do what any big man rookie must: crash the boards, finish strong, play with a high motor, set good screens and use his mobility to play good help defense. Given how much the Raptors love to help, he should be getting his fair share of get-the-f**k-outta-here blocks ala Chris Boucher.

I find expectations of second-round big men all to be the same: scrap it out and prove that you should’ve been drafted in the first round. I would imagine you have a nothing-to-lose mindset when you get picked in the second round, and every game against anyone who got picked ahead of you serves as motivation. He seems no different.

Long-term: Hakeem Olajuwon.

How would you rate Toronto’s preseason?

Again with the rating but I’ll bite after a brief explanation. If you beat the Celtics twice it’s automatically an A+, nothing more to talk about here really.

But if you’re the kind who likes to dig in to the actual basketball in pre-season, you probably didn’t like how how stagnant our offense was and how little offensive experimentation is happening. This is probably the classic mistake of reading too much into pre-season, but it wasn’t a fluid and fun scene to watch. The exciting part was that Raptors basketball is back, and that gets you over any unmet expectations that you might have had.

I think the last game of the preseason is how all the games should be played. Get the young guys out there in Summer League Part 2. They try hard and make it watchable and it’s actually meaningful since they’re fighting for a job. If you reorganize this thing into a tournament-style format you might even get one of those Lamborghini-driving scalpers yelling, “TIICCKKAAAATS TICKAAAAAAATS…KOLOKO TICKAAATS”.

So, combine beating the Celtics twice with a sticky offense and some young guys making their mark, I’d say it’s a nice little A-.

As far as realistic free-agent targets go, was there someone you liked more than Otto Porter jr.? If so, why?

The Deandre Ayton S&T peaked my interest for a bit, only because I feel we need a counterweight to Joel Embiid in the East. Precious Achiuwa is progressing and is high on the hype radar for everyone, but it’s asking too much too soon from him. He’s 23 so two years younger than OG and the latter’s taking his time blossoming, so it’s hard for me to link Precious to an elite Eastern center, yet. He will be a defensive force at some piont, but to what degree this season remains to be seen.

Then again, would Ayton be worth losing Pascal Siakam? Maaaaaybe, except I feel the Raptors brass do want to give this team another shot before pulling a DeRozan-like trade, only this time with Siakam or Fred. So either this year we achieve something exciting, or it’s going to be fireworks and more angry phone calls with Masai being hung up on.

In terms of needs addressed, the signing gets an A+ because that was undoubtedly our biggest need. Unless you count rebounding as a need, but rebounding is oh-so-2008.

Are you happy with how Toronto’s end-of-roster decisions shook out? What would you have rather?

I didn’t know there was a decision to be made. Sure, we pretended like Josh Jackson’s anemic three-point shooting could be overlooked, but was it really a battle if the decision was made right after the last pre-season game ended? I imagine the coach’s meeting that decided the final cuts happened at a Montreal McDonalds drive-thru.

I would have liked to see Gabe Brown make the roster only because he seemed like he’s ready to fire at any time. He also shot 38% from three in college and I already mentioned how we have a three-point shooting issue.

In what ways do you think this upcoming season will be different from last? Will the team take a step forward?

Much like the last year and the year before we’re relying on organic development from Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet to level up. I don’t expect the defense to be much different, and we have’t made enough personnel changes to suggest that the offense will be drastically different (OPJR notwithstanding).

What I hope will be different is the sense of urgency for this roster that this might be their last shot together to win something meaningful. That in itself could be the catalyst that makes this a memorable season, so despite the lack of exciting changes, there’s hope deep in my heart.

There are different definitions of “step forward”, and for me that’s winning a playoff round so this question becomes whether the Raptors will win a playoff series. It is so matchup-dependent that it’s difficult to say, so I’ll just pick last year’s matchup. If they face Philadelphia again in the first round as a 4-5 or 3-6 matchup, has enough improved for us for the result to be different? They got PJ Tucker and Montrezl Harrell to our Otto Porter Jr. I’d say they’d still be favoured.

Do you think the Raptors will continue their positionless (but in reality everyone-is-a-power-forward) experiment? Should they?

Yes, give it another year. Don’t half-ass the experiment by ending it too early. It hasn’t made for beautiful (or playoff winning) basketball yet but let’s see what Pascal Siakam as a full-time playmaking forward can do for us. Last year was his first proper year playing the role so there’s potential for growth there. How that growth could make his teammates better than what they’d be in a traditional setup is the million-dollar question.

I always look at the opportunity cost of things, and if we’re going with the length-and-strength strategy, what are we giving up? Fred as a FT playmaking point guard? Not that exciting to be honest. But if you tell me we can convert a non-Barnes asset to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, I will set fire to “everyone-is-a-power-forward” playbook with my own hands.

Consider also this excellent comment from BTV:

Prediction time! As scientifically as possible, can you please offer a record for the Raptors when the season is done and a playoff result?

I predicted 6th seed and a first round exit last year, and this year I’m going with 46 wins and a first round exit (remember, I’m a cynic at heart so don’t take this as me hating, it’s just that I was dipped in vinegar when I was born).

The East got better more than the Raptors did. My logic is as simple as that. Now, if Otto Porter Jr. is the three-point spark that we all hope he is, and Precious Achiuwa picks up where he left off, and Pascal Siakam doesn’t freeze in the post-season, there’s a chance we’re more than just playoff fodder stuffed with hollow regular season wins. Time will tell, I’m hopeful and do have a small wager on the Raptors winning the East. A small, hopeful one.

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