Raptors Weekend Roundtable

Title: Raptors Weekend Roundtable
Date: September 19, 2014
Original Source: Raptors Republic (Part 2)
Synopsis: I took part in a two-part roundtable discussion about the Toronto Raptors offseason and where the team stands entering 2014-15.

Zarar, Blake and Will get together to create a little content for the weekend.

I’ll level with you here, precious readers. Things are dire here in Raptors Republic. We’re hurting for content. There’s not much going on in Raptorsland at the moment. The two weeks that separate now and the start of preseason is a haunting abyss. We’ll have individual player assessments, win projections and a whole lot more in store, but in the meantime, we turn to the generic roundtable gimmick to fill these unspent columns. Cheers.

1. Most impactful transaction of the offseason?

Zarar: Re-signing Kyle Lowry. It set the tone for the rest of the summer and was the first domino to fall in the Raptors bringing the rest of the group back. If he would have gone, the questions that would’ve been asked were going to be about what DeMar DeRozan would do when his contract is up. Instead, we’re talking about winning and moving forward.

Blake: Re-signing Kyle Lowry. Every other move was made at the margin, and while they improved the team and Lowry technically didn’t (since he was here last year), his loss would have been far greater than any gains the team could have made elsewhere. Not only is Lowry a great talent on both ends of the floor, his return also keeps the team chemistry and identity in tact, for as much as that’s worth. He’s the team’s best player and the franchise’s branding strategy’s avatar. This was paramount.

William: The correct answer is Lowry, but just to buck the trend, I’ll tab the re-signing of Patrick Patterson. I’ll admit, after seeing shooters like Jodie Meeks and Ben Gordon inking deals at exorbitant prices, I thought a young floor-stretching big like Patterson would be priced out of the Raptor’s budget. Instead, Parrerson is back in-tow at a reasonable price. He gives the Raptors a different look at the four, and helps balance offense in the second unit. To top it off, he’s in his prime. A tidy bit of business for Masai Ujiri,

2. Amir Johnson or Patrick Patterson? Who would you start at power forward?

Zarar: Amir Johnson. Patterson’s energy is better suited off the bench, and I’m a fan of playing Johnson and Valanciunas together. I find that Valanciunas isn’t mature enough as a defender to be played consistently as the lone big in a small-ball rotation, at least not yet. There’s also a better chance of good hi-lo play between the two, then it would be between Patterson and Valanciunas.

Blake: Johnson is superior defensively and in the pick-and-roll, but Patterson’s floor spacing is a major asset to the entire offense. In terms of the starter, I’d pick Johnson in a vacuum as he’s the better player, but Patterson is probably a better fit with the starters on offense (and Johnson can play some limited reserve five, where the team’s a bit thin). That said, Johnson and Valanciunas have a nice chemistry and Johnson is nice to have for experience alongside Valanciunas, and there’s no clear reason to break up the band. Really, though, last year they averaged 28.8 (Johnson) and 23.3 (Patterson) minutes; as long as those numbers are close to even, this matters little and could be match-up dependent.

William: There’s really no wrong answer. The numbers point to Patterson as the superior option offensively, but Johnson is far better defensively. For the sake of not rocking the boat, Casey should keep Amir in the starting lineup, but as they did last season, a mid-first quarter substitution should break up the pairing of Valanciunas and Johnson. Match-ups should also play a factor. Granting the bulk of the minutes to Patterson against a rim-protector like Roy Hibbert is a must to help open space for drives.

3. More impactful bench performer — James Johnson or Lou Williams?

Zarar: My vote goes to James Johnson because it’s easier to make a defensive difference than an offensive one, and he doesn’t have to battle back from injury like Williams does. Johnson actually has a role to fill in the rotation, whereas I’m still struggling to see where Lou Williams fits into the picture, but I’m all for a pleasant surprise.

Blake: Bruh…BRUH. Bruno Caboclo, next question.

Seriously, I’d figure Johnson will have the bigger impact, though it may only manifest itself in certain match-ups. I used to love Williams, but he’s here for depth and as a flier, and his path to playing time is very crowded with Lowry, Vasquez and DeRozan dominating minutes in the backcourt. Johnson fills a need as a three who can body up bigger small forwards, and as frustrating as he’ll surely be – he hasn’t ironed his wrinkles out much since he left – there will be games where he’s an appreciable asset.

William: I’m hoping for big things from Terrence Ross this season, so I think James Johnson will see limited playing time (no more than 20 per game). Williams should reduce the amount of minutes DeRozan has to shoulder, which isn’t to be discounted if the Raptors have eyes for a post-season run. Williams is a good ball-handler and has a decent track record of thriving in two-point guard lineups. That makes him an ideal backcourt partner for Greivis Vasquez, though that also introduces concerns defensively.

Part two of our roundtable, where Blake, Zarar and Will get together to create that honest-to-goodness content.

All the memes are true. The struggle is real for these here Raptors bloggers. We turned to the roundtable format on Friday in part one, where we discussed Amir vs. Patterson, most impactful offseason transaction and the battle at eighth-man. I guess this is part two (of my confessions, just when I thought I said…)

1. Biggest weakness?

Zarar: There’s not much over at center after Valanciunas. Bebe is too raw, very unproven, and has not been well-reviewed. It’s difficult to see him being a defensive anchor for the second-unit, and he has no discernible offensive talent beyond 1-foot. On the positive side, we haven’t gotten any worse, it just feels like a missed opportunity.

Blake: I don’t think the team has a roster hole so much as a tactical weakness at certain times. While the offense was effective overall last year , the team’s most heavily used fivesome has a bit of a floor spacing issue (see question two). With DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas all on the floor together, Lowry and Ross are the only 3-point threats. That lineup managed an O-Rating of 106.7 and shot an unlikely 40 percent from long range last season, but from an Xs and Os standpoint, it’s a tough group to scheme for.

Said differently, “NO WEAKNESS SUCKA.”

Will: The biggest weakness on the Raptors is that they don’t necessarily excel on either end of the floor. The Raptors are a fringe top-10 team on both offense and defense, but are prone to bouts of ineffectiveness. That owes in part to their relatively blasse talent level. Not to spark the “transcendental talent” debate (no, really, don’t start that again), but the Raptors are a well-balanced team with many good talents, though none great. Put it another way, I’m nit-picking, and the team is fine.

 

2. Most likely to breakout — Jonas Valanciunas or Terrence Ross?

Zarar: Jonas Valanciunas, because he doesn’t let one bad game affect a stretch of games. Ross’s bounce-back time from having poor games seems much higher, and since shooting is all about confidence, Ross is more likely to stammer his way through the season than Valanciunas, who is also buoyed by his showing at FIBA.6. How many games won? How many playoff series won?

Blake: Do we want to play linguistic gymnastics? Valanciunas is now a known commodity and Ross is perhaps further from his ultimate ceiling, so Ross has the largest capacity to grow and “breakout.” He’s also probably a more important piece, given the team’s general strength at other positions and need for Ross to develop into, at worst, a more reliable 3-and-D guy. That said, Valanciunas has a higher overall ceiling and has a clear path to improvement with more touches and defensive experience. I’d say Valanciunas’ numbers take a bigger jump, but Ross’ development is more appreciable.

Will: The biggest jump for Valanciunas to make is on the defensive end, and that is a steady process that comes with age, so I’ll go with Terrence Ross. Small forward was a position of weakness for the Raptors last season, owing in-part to Ross’ inconsistency and inflexibility. Ross made good on his promise as a three-point shooter last season, so the next step is for him to start driving. Here’s a fun fact: Andrea Bargnani averaged more drives per game than Ross did last season. Bargs, with his stupid pump fake + drive + travel/death/missed layups drove more often than Ross. If Ross can actually start attacking the basket, he’ll become much more dangerous on offense.

3. How many games won? How many playoff series won?

Zarar: 46 wins – Some of the extremely shitty teams in the East mask the overall competitiveness of the conference, and I’m thinking the chemistry the Raptors have offsets some of that, so I’m going to pick a win total shade under last season.  They win a round – I’m calling a defeat of the Heat in five games.

Blake: Let’s keep last season’s optimism rolling: while the Bulls and Cavaliers are a step above the Raptors, they manage to take care of the dregs of the conference and maintain their 2013-14 chemistry. They take a minor step back with a 47-35 record but still win the Atlantic and, most importantly for the franchise, they win their second playoff series ever before bowing out to the Bulls in round two.

Will: Let’s go with 50 wins. Excitement is high in Raptorsland, and there’s good reason for that. But it’s also important to not lose perspective. Yes, the team did go 42-22 after the Rudy Gay trade, but they were also the league’s best fourth quarter team, which was likely due in large part to luck. Last year’s squad also dodged major injuries to their starting staff, and I have my concerns about Patrick Patterson, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson’s health. Having said all that, I still think they snag the third seed and beat the Hornets in a hard-fought first-round playoff series. Then, they push the Bulls to six games before bowing out.

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