Before the start of the season, I joined a panel at The National Post for a Raptors season preview. Let's see how they turned out.
1. Do you believe in the merits of chemistry as much as Masai Ujiri, who barely altered last year’s team?
Then: I do. Chemistry is viewed as a dirty word, especially with advanced stats ruling the field of basketball analysis. But the core of this team is relatively young, and showed enough last season to warrant another year (at least) to see just exactly what the ceiling of this roster is.
Now: I probably still value chemistry more than most, and the second half of last season (and the playoffs, to some extent) convinced Masai Ujiri to bring back the same team, without committing themselves to the entire roster for the long term. When it comes to upgrading the roster and getting a team from good to great, I'll almost always value talent over chemistry. So let's check back on this one after the playoffs when we look ahead to the summer, when the Raptors could be very active in free agency and trades.
2. How do you feel about the contract extension Ujiri gave to head coach Dwane Casey?
Then: There’s a sense of unfinished business with this team from last year, and I think the extension for Casey shows that Ujiri wants to find out how far this team can go with him at the helm. For that reason, I’m on board with it.
Now: Same as above. Everyone, including Casey, deserved another year of evaluation, and probably more. Has he been perfect? No. But like any coach, we tend to pick them apart, and then look for someone with strengths in areas where the current coach is weak at. I think this is where I make a Butch Carter to Lenny Wilkens to Kevin O'Neill reference. The main gripe with Casey is probably his resistance to be more flexible with the roster, but there are positives. Again, we'll see whether the good outweighs the bad, especially after this playoff run.
3. What do you expect from Jonas Valanciunas in his third year, the last season before the Raptors can offer him an extension?
Then: The one thing I’d like to find out this season is a definitive answer to the question: What is the one thing Valanciunas can do to really impact the game at all times? Is it his defence? Is it a low post game that can be relied on in the fourth quarter? Or an improving perimeter game?
Now: We always want players to develop at a quicker pace than they actually do, whether it's game-to-game, or year-to-year. Valanciunas has continued to develop, and at some point we might have to ask what his ceiling might be and depending on how the roster is constructed moving forward, what is ideal role will be on offense and on defense especially in the fourth quarter. But I still see him as a key piece for the future.
4. Will Kyle Lowry be the same player that he was last year before he got his big pay day?
Wong: I think so. The contract year thing always felt like the SI cover jinx to me: We pick and choose when it fits the narrative. Plus, the very fact that there are people out there saying that Lowry will fall off after a big pay day means he’ll have a chip on his shoulder to prove them wrong.
Now: Motivation was not a problem with Lowry, who seems to have matured on a permanent basis instead of some contract year mirage. When he was healthy, Lowry was one of the best players in the league and was a deserving All-Star starter. He's been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Here's hoping he is healthy, or at least remains healthy enough to make a full playoff run. Right now, his contract looks reasonable, barring any long-term injury setbacks.
5. Will any Raptors make the All-Star Game this year? How about any of the all-NBA teams?
Then: A team has to be really good to send multiple players to the All-Star Game. While DeRozan will probably put up similar numbers as last year, I’m guessing there will be a course correction this year and Kyle Lowry will get the nod after last year’s snub. I’d give an outside chance for either Lowry or DeRozan to make the all-NBA third team, although I wouldn’t bet on it legally.
Now: I just want to know if Derozan's numbers since March is a sign of permanent growth in his game, from his passing to his long-range shooting. If so, it completely changes my outlook on him.
6. Will Tim Leiweke’s departure from MLSE make any tangible difference to the team?
Then: The team is relatively set at least to start the season, and unlikely to make any major, franchise-altering moves in-season. So in the short term: no. I’m (blindly) optimistic Leiweke’s replacement can build a relationship with Ujiri and shield him from fighting any boardroom battles with the MLSE folks.
Now: So far, so good. But it's MLSE, so we'll just wait for the next headline. There's a riff with Drake, right? I'm not just imagining this?
7. Who will be the most pleasant surprise on this year’s team?
Then: Williams. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen in the pre-season and having an additional scoring option in the fourth quarter will be huge for this team.
Now: I'm pro Lou Will. I hope we bring him back. Winning Sixth Man of the Year might drive up his price a little.
8. Who will be the biggest disappointment?
Then: Tyler Hansbrough, because the expectation he set with his first pre-season game. I’m legitimately expecting a corner three once a game. It’s not going to end well.
Now: I guess the correct answer would have been Terrence Ross.
9. Drake Night 2: Boom or bust?
Then: Boom. But on the assumption that there’s a guest appearance from Nicki Minaj, even nicer T-shirts handed out this season, and most important of all, Drake in a customized BRUNOVOXO CABOCLO sweater.
Now: The shirts were nicer. I wasn't there. If anyone wants to give me a shirt, hit me up.
10. What will the Raptors’ record be, where will they finish in the Eastern Conference standings and how far will they advance in the playoffs (if you think they will make it)?
Then: 49-33. Win the Atlantic Division, finish with the third seed and make it to the second round of the playoffs.
Now: Pretty good? Might screenshot this one and put it on my LinkedIn profile so someone can endorse me for sports prognostication.