Title: TORONTO RAPTORS OFFSEASON REVIEW
Date: August 2, 2016
Original Source: Fan Sided
Synopsis: I made a guest appearance at Fan Sided, answering a few questions about Raptors offseason.
With a max deal in hand, what’s next for DeMar DeRozan with the Raptors?
Blake Murphy: As tough as it may be to ask a player nearing the plateau of his development curve, the next thing for DeRozan is simply continued improvement. To his credit, he’s usually come back each season with an extra trick or two in his bag or an improvement in a key area, and his salary is now such that another step forward is expected, not a bonus. (The deal, of course, was market value and he’s a “max player” in this economy, but he can be a better player, still.)
Specifically — and if you’re giving up on the idea of DeRozan ever being an above-average defender, smart given his offensive workload — DeRozan could stand to improve as a playmaker in the pick-and-roll. His passing has improved a great deal over the last few seasons, and four assists from the wing are great, but he’ll often look off pick-and-pop opportunities, miss the dive man, or over-dribble into a reset. As the team looks to get Jonas Valanciunas a larger share of the offense and with Kyle Lowry a fun, quirky screener, DeRozan’s ability to thread the needle or make a quick decision as the ball-handler could unlock some options for the offense. Hopefully running some point for USA Basketball helps open up this part of his game.
The difficulty with giving DeRozan near-max money is that he’s somewhat difficult to build with. If he’s using 25-30 percent of your possessions, you have to play a certain way on offense. That hasn’t been a problem the last few seasons, and DeRozan’s passing and shooting could take further steps forward, which is really the only way the Raptors are going to keep improving — it’s not just on DeRozan, but with little cap flexibility this summer and next, the team’s betting heavily on internal growth if they’re hoping to take a leap. If DeRozan can get even better in his age-27 season, Lowry can maintain his level of play, and one of the youngest winning rosters in the NBA can keep growing together, the Raptors have a chance to at least repeat as “biggest opportunist if LeBron James gets hurt.”
Jakob Poeltl will be this season.
Blake Murphy: Proof that you shouldn’t expect much from 20-year-old bigs. I’m a fan of Poeltl both as a safer floor play (a 56-win team with a lottery ticket was definitely justified in looking for someone they can pencil in for the rotation at some point on his rookie scale contract) and as an upside play (the team had him higher on their board than ninth and think his ball skills are underrated; he may end up a starting-caliber five), but he’s not going to be called on much in 2016-17.
Bigs this young simply don’t contribute often unless they’re special talents. The Raptors have Jonas Valanciunas pushing toward 30 minutes at the pivot, Lucas Nogueira is the favorite to land the backup job given his additional experience and advanced age, and the Raptors’ best bench-unit option may wind up being Jared Sullinger as a smaller five. Poeltl can be brought along slowly, see heavy time in the D-League, and ready himself in the event Nogueira flounders behind Valanciunas.
The Austrian will probably be needed at some point and showed encouraging two-way flashes at Summer League, but anyone thinking “lottery pick” is synonymous with “ready to contribute” needs to slow their roll.
How does Jared Sullinger complement the rest of the big man rotation?
Murphy: Complement is a tough word choice here. The truth is, he’s not an ideal fit alongside Jonas Valanciunas at either end of the floor, and the team would probably be best off having him prop up the second-unit offense while the lower-usage, better-defending Patrick Patterson starts at the four. As it is, Sullinger is the favorite to land the starting gig, and that’s fine — fit be damned, he’s a talented player who was willing to sign well below market for a team that had to find a player fitting exactly that description.
In terms of how he’ll fit, there are three primary areas to watch with Sullinger (and no, I’m not going to make the obvious “waistline” joke here): His shooting, his passing, and his not being Luis Scola. Sullinger isn’t a “good” three-point shooter but the Celtics also rarely had him fire from the corners, where threes are easier and a little more open. The Raptors ratcheted up Scola’s corner attempts to previously unthinkable levels, and they’re poised to do the same with Sullinger, who may wind up a low-30s long-range marksman as a result. Sullinger’s skill as a passer should be welcome to an offense that’s looking to improve ball movement, and he adds another piece alongside DeMarre Carroll who can attack a closeout and make the next best, keeping the ball zipping instead of stagnating. And defensively, the Raptors survived with Scola alongside Valanciunas, and Sullinger, while not the most laterally mobile of bigs, is a step up from Scola.
The pairing isn’t exactly pancakes and maple syrup (or bacon and maple syrup, or eggs and maple syrup, or snow and maple syrup), but Sullinger’s a nice add, another option at the four and five, and insurance that the Raptors should once again be a strong rebounding outfit.