The preseason is a lot more about learning than it is winning, which is good for the 1-2 Raptors. After three games, the team has used its time appropriately — as a veritable catwalk for potential deep bench players, as well as a chance for the established rotation guys to show how they have improved over the summer. So far, so good.
Against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors will once again play around with different personnel combinations, looking for a spark. With that comes the chance to see guys in a Raptors uniform who have a little less than a prayer of playing in the NBA this year. It’s tempting to see the Eastern Conference Finals rematch against the Cavs as a meaningful opportunity for the Raptors to earn confidence and respect, but it’s doubtful that either team will commit their star players to minutes necessary for a legitimate battle.
Instead, just enjoy the show. Here are three things to watch for:
There is a new Canadian in town (for now)
At best, Brady Heslip is the very, very poor man’s Steve Nash. At worst, he is a future member of the Second Team All-Bosnian League. Still, it was fun to watch him heat up from the field in the team’s last game against the Los Angeles Clippers, where he led all Raptors with 13 points, shooting 5-6 from the field. Watching Heslip is like taking in a Canadian junior hockey game, where every player is competing so hard to make the pros, even if he really has no chance.
Heslip probably isn’t at the top of the Raptors’ list to make the 15-man roster. Fred VanVleet is likely a better guard, if the team elects to keep a fringe guard at all. Still, it’s always exciting to see a scrappy hometown kid with a penchant for three-pointers try to shoot his way into a professional contract. If he gets the minutes, expect a similar level of production.
Is Terrence Ross for real?
The answer is somewhere between ‘not really’ and ‘sort of,’ in a strange grey zone where our hopes and dreams go to die. Early in the preseason, Ross has looked engaged and confident, shooting accurately from beyond the arc but not settling on living there. In game two against the Denver Nuggets, Ross led the Raptors with 23 points, hitting four of his seven three-point tries.
In the past, every time Ross has gained momentum, it has faded before the fans even have time to start a petition to get him a key to the city (which doesn’t take long in Toronto). There is still so much potential, but it’s time for Ross to turn into a real pro, and definitively show the basketball world whether he can sink or swim as a regular rotation player. If he keeps up his preseason efforts, it could be a big year for both his wallet and the team’s bench unit.
Norman Powell is a pretty good basketball player
No, really. He hasn’t had an outstanding offensive game yet, with his best performance being a 3-9 shooting night against Denver, but Powell could have a major season with the Raptors. This year, he will be a fixture on the bench unit, logging healthy minutes. That’s going to be big for the second year player who broke through during Summer League last year.
Powell is bound to hit his preseason stride. It’s only a matter of time before he shows the patience and maturity that turned heads as he dominated children in Las Vegas. At his best, he could be a real spark plug off the bench during the regular season. Look for head coach Dwane Casey to give him the spotlight he might need to explode.
Where to Watch (Updated): 8pm on TSN1, 4 and 5 (apparently)