Title: Raptors Pre-Preseason Mailbag
Date: September 28, 2014
Original Source: Raptors Republic
Synopsis: This article answered some reader questions ahead of the Toronto Raptors’ preseason.
It’s a Sunday afternoon in September, so the chances anyone is reading a Toronto Raptors-related post are probably pretty slim. For now, that is. At this time next week, we’ll be gearing up for the team’s preseason opener in Vancouver. This week, we’ve rolled through some player-specific previews, as we’ll do again this coming week. We’ll also have a presence at Monday’s media day, and a presence for the Vancouver portion of training camp, so look out for that.
Over the coming weeks, preseason games, coach’s comments, and context clues will answer a lot of questions about this team for us. In the interim, we opened the floor to readers and commenters to fire questions our way.
On the surface, the answer to an Ennis-for-Caboclo swap should be yes from the Raptors’ perspective. The team was said to want Ennis badly enough that they tried to move up a few spots in the draft to grab him. When they failed to do so, balking at an asking price from the Suns that was said to be exorbitant, they rolled the dice on Caboclo, knowing he wouldn’t slide to their next pick at No. 37.
In other words, they valued Ennis enough that they would have used more than just the No. 20 pick to get him, and wanted Caboclo at No. 37 but took him earlier in case he didn’t slide. Obviously, then, Ennis was higher on their draft boards. In the time since the draft, Caboclo has proven a very fun project and galvanized the hyper-active portion of the fanbase online, flashing some encouraging signs at Summer League. Ennis, meanwhile, struggled at Summer League and has become expendable in Phoenix through no fault of his own, though a handful of summer exhibitions are hardly enough to drop one’s stock (or see him lose his Canadian passport, for those of you for whom such things matter).
The problem with a retroactive trade scenario is that the Raptors carried out their offseason with Caboclo, not Ennis (would the team have re-signed Vasquez if they had landed Ennis, for example?). For that reason, and because of the perhaps unexpectedly positive response to Caboclo, I don’t think the Raptors would make the swap. Personally, I’ve never been that high on Ennis (I see him as a good backup eventually, but as a starter you’d always be looking to upgrade), and the Caboclo experiment is just going to be way too entertaining. Plus, at the end of the roster, I go upside over floor all day.
My instinct is that Caboclo knows better than to make enemies in training camp, so he’ll keep his instrument holstered for the early part of practice sessions. A guy like Amir Johnson isn’t going to take kindly to some rookie getting Deez in his face on a poster, and Caboclo seems too respectful a teenager to do such a thing. So unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until about three minutes into the preseason opener before seeing Caboclo shove it down some sucka’s throat (looking at you, Boogie). #WingspanWarning #CabocloCountdown
Related question from Navin Vaswani: What, honestly, is a successful season next year?
I’m pairing the best and worst scenarios with the success question, because the best case and the goal are obviously related.
This team is going to tell you throughout the preseason that they believe they can stake a claim as the best team in the Eastern Conference, because they have to. A year after making a surprise run to an Atlantic Division title, management, the coaches, and the players aren’t going to set a goal in line with last season’s results, and they surely feel as a group they can improve. A successful season from their perspective, then, may be 50 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
If all parties were to be a little more honest and self-aware, the goal is the second round of the playoffs. The franchise has won a single playoff series, ever, and doing so again puts any Raptors team in the discussion as the best ever. While a run to the ECF isn’t entirely unrealistic, the Raptors slot in quite obviously as the No. 3 team in the conference, having already answered more questions than some of the teams after them but not matching up with Cleveland and Chicago on talent. Aggressive goals are appreciated, but a “successful season” sees the team make the second round of the playoffs and giving Cleveland or Chicago a run in the second round.
A “best case,” then, is some injury luck or an unexpected trade or breakout sees the Raptors competing in the ECF. The worst case? Well, the chemistry could dissipate, injuries could strike, and the young players could fail to develop, leaving the Raptors to compete for a playoff spot instead of a specific seed and putting the core of the franchise into question moving forward.
I’ve bunched these questions together because they all kind of point to the biggest improvement the Raptors have made this offseason: their depth. The team’s top-seven remain unchanged, but the names that should get run beyond that core group are vastly improved over last season.
Look at who was getting minutes behind the starting five, Patrick Patterson, and Greivis Vasquez from Dec. 8 (the night of The Trade) onwards:
John Salmons is gone! Ya done, son. Get the hell on. Not only is Salmons’ ungodly minutes total being spread elsewhere, two key bench additions see some other, only marginally-useful players, slide down a peg on the depth chart:
Salmons’ minutes will go to both Ross (in an increased workload) and Johnson, who is a very obvious improvement, especially on the defensive end against bigger wing players. Salmons was a veteran hand that Dwane Casey trusted on defense and who wouldn’t turn the ball over, but it can’t be overstated just how bad he was at basketball. Johnson is erratic and Ross’ development isn’t a given, but we’re talking 20 minutes a game off the bench that are being shifted to appreciably better players. That’s enormous.
While Williams’ role is less obvious – he’s the nominal backup shooting guard, but the team runs two points too often for that to be a sizable role – he shores up the depth at either guard spot in the event of injuries, meaning the team no longer has to fear the Buycks and Stones of the world getting on the floor.
The interior depth hasn’t really improved much, but slightly more minutes for Valanciunas and Patterson will require less from those reserve bigs. There’s an obvious hole at backup center if the team is hesitant to spot Amir Johnson there at times (it’s a tricky trade-off given the desire to keep him healthy in the long-run), but maybe Hayes, Stiemsma and Nogueira can patch it up until mid-season, when the team can re-evaluate what they have and make a play for some rim protection on the trade market.
The team is deep, far deeper than they were last season, and you can feel pretty safe with the likely nine-man rotation (plus whichever extra big Casey ends up trusting):
(That doesn’t mean Amir Johnson is a reserve, just the easiest way to show him filling two roles.)
Comparing depth across teams is difficult – the Bulls have an insane frontcourt, for example, but are somewhat thin on the perimeter – but the Raptors absolutely shored up the deeper roles in the rotation. Johnson will frustrate but has a very specific set of skills, Williams is a substantial upgrade at the guard spots (even if he’s used little to start), and who knows, maybe Fields can be a thing again. Other than the center spot, this team runs deep and has acceptable contingencies in place in the event of struggles or injury, which couldn’t be said at any point last season.