The 2016-17 NBA season begins tonight, so the Raptors HQ staff got together to answer some pertinent (and, uh, less pertinent) Raptors questions before tip-off. Toronto’s opener is tomorrow, which, coincidentally, is when Part 2 of our HQ Roundtable will be posted. Now, on to Part 1!
Mitch Robson: Jonas Valanciunas. Especially now with the injury to Sullinger, the uber thin front court depth will force "Big Science" to not only elevate his play on both ends. He's simply going to have to improve his rim protection and lateral quickness on defence as well as improve his conditioning to stay on the floor for 30 minutes per game for the first time in his career. Following an extremely lacklustre Olympic and preseason run, it will be very interesting to see how he takes on the challenge of Andre Drummond tonight.
John Gaudes: It’s clear that Jonas Valanciunas has the most to prove. With the departure of Bismack Biyombo and the injury to Jared Sullinger, the Raptors are demonstrably weaker and more shallow in the frontcourt to start this season.
Before his ankle injury in the playoffs, Jonas was a force to be reckoned with. His 13.8 points and 10.8 rebounds were above his season averages, but what was especially impactful was his tenaciousness on the offensive boards (four per game). When Valanciunas is healthy and engaged, he’s the best chance the Raptors have at cleaning up Lowry and DeRozan’s misses.
That said, the last few months Jonas has looked… not great. He was called out pretty violently by his Lithuania coach at the Olympics, then spent long stretches of the preseason looking lethargic, and has shown little carry-over or consistency from the best stretch of his career.
This is year five for Jonas, and the Raptors desperately need Playoff Valanciunas to be the new norm this season. Anything less and you’re relying on Bebe and Pascal Siakam to be difference-makers, and I think that’s asking a little too much.
Sean Woodley: This is a team that went through it's real #provem stage last season. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were coming off of playoff flops, Dwane Casey was in clear jeopardy, and the team needed to make good on it's promise by finally winning a playoff series. They did that.
That leaves Jonas Valanciunas as the guy with the most the prove heading into 2016-17. We know he's efficient, and offensively gifted. But we also know his flaws in the areas of defense and versatility. This season will go a long way towards proving whether or not he's cut out to be a fulcrum in the modern NBA. His small-sample of great play in the playoffs can't be an outlier. It needs to be the norm.
Dan Grant: Jonas Valanciunas. DeMar is a good pick here too, but Jonas has to finally show that he can be the third best player on a contending team over a full season. This isn't a 'in the first ten games thing'. This is about sustained production. This Raptors team is more in flux than we like to admit — a decision soon needs to be made on whether to retain Kyle Lowry for the tail-end of his prime, or to rebuild around DeRozan and a younger core.
If JV is ready to play the way he did during last years playoffs for a full season, then I think you re-sign Lowry without hesitating. I mean, I think you probably do that anyway, but if Jonas takes a step back, or looks out of shape and out of sorts, as he did in the pre-season (fire that man's barber, immediately), the entire Raptors future becomes murky. This is year five for Jonas. It's either time for him to show more than flashes, or for us to realize that maybe he's not quite what we hoped for. I'm certainly hoping it's the former.
Harsh Dave: To me, the most fascinating player on Team #ProveEm is Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors have placed a significant amount of faith in Valanciunas to continue carrying the torch originally lit by Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as the organization aims to build on the success they've had the past three years. For all the potential and flashes of brilliance Valanciunas has shown, we still don’t really know what he’ll end up being.
By letting Bismack Biyombo walk in free agency, the Raptors have bet on Valanciunas to start anchoring the defence a little bit more. Will he repay that faith? Will he find a way to continue producing offence at an above average efficiency, while improving the awareness and intelligence required for him to really become a player the offence can run through at times? The league is going in the opposite direction from the lumbering post-oriented big that Valanciunas is. Can he assert his will on games enough to force opposing teams into inopportune matchups?
Alex Wong: DeMarre Carroll. Signed a huge contract last summer, was hampered by injuries all season, gutted it out in the playoffs even though he was clearly not at 100%. But this was a signing meant to solidify the team's starting lineup, give them a go-to perimeter defender and a three-point threat capable of stretching the floor, and allowing Toronto to play smaller lineups to take advantage of the combination of talent that's on this roster. Carroll got an incomplete grade last season. If he can stay healthy this year, I feel like he's the key to allowing the Raptors to repeat their regular season performance from last year.
Mitch Robson: Putting this team over the top is only going to happen with a move of major magnitude if they want to legitimately contend with the Cavs, so come trade deadline time, SOUND THE MASAI-REN, and bring Boogie Cousins to Toronto and reunite the Kentucky front court of 2009 with 2Pat.
John Gaudes: This is something I’ll be revisiting quite a bit (teaser!), so I’ll stay on brand with the thought of most people here: the Raptors need a starting power forward.
Names have been thrown around. Paul Millsap and LaMarcus Aldridge are both in positions where they might get real unhappy, real quick this season. DeMarcus Cousins has worn team shorts. While each of these players fit to various degrees — I would order it Millsap, Cousins, Aldridge — they all present solutions to the longest-standing problem with this Raptors roster: they simply don’t have great options for scoring at the power forward position.
Getting someone who would provide some space, giving Valanciunas his room to operate, is ideal. Having a forward who could drop to centre with Patrick Patterson and bench units would be great too. It just makes this Raptors roster so much more flexible over 48 minutes, and gives them a puncher’s chance at beating Cleveland in a seven-game series.
Sean Woodley: Answering this question requires that we know what "top" actually means in regards to this Raptors team. If replicating last season is the goal, then there might not be a necessary move to make. This team has the talent in a sad conference to match its 2015-16 accomplishments.,
If reaching the "top" necessitates ending LeBron James' six-year rule of the East, then a dose of realism needs to be injected into any hypothetical trade your brain can conjure. Paul Millsap would be the ideal target if the Hawks rot from the inside-out. But even then, landing Millsap would merely give the Raptors a puncher's chance at cracking LeBron — not a guarantee.
Dan Grant: A trade for a forward seems like a foregone conclusion doesn't it? With Jared Sullinger's Bismack 2.0 campaign already derailed, the Raptors need to make a move as soon as they can — which is likely not until December, when Sullinger, or at least his expiring contract, can be dealt.
Despite all the love around here for DeMarcus Cousins (and I certainly wouldn't turn him down, or anything) I'd like to see Masai dip back into his old Denver roots and deal Terrence Ross, along with Sullinger's deal, for hybrid forward Danilo Gallinari. Throw in a protected future first if Gallinari will excercise his player option for 2017-18. I'd love the look of the 6'10 Gallinari next to DeMarre Carroll — you could put either at the four, and play matchups accordingly. There's obviously risk there — Gallinari has only played anything close to a full season twice in seven seasons, and has missed 52 games over the past two years. But he's talented enough that risking a season and a half on him makes a lot of sense as a win-now move for this Raptors team.
Gallinari is my personal choice, but dipping from the same pool, Toronto could make a play for Wilson Chandler or Kenneth Faried, both of whom are locked up to multi-year contracts. Pillage Denver Masai. Pillage them!
Harsh Dave: Scratch all of the above. Trade Jonas Valanciunas plus whatever the Kings want for DeMarcus Cousins. Besides that, any PF upgrade would be welcome. That Markieff Morris trade was right there last year. I’d rather have Markieff Morris than Jakob Poeltl.
Alex Wong: I'm not sure there is one, and while we can sort out scenarios where a LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMarcus Cousins becomes available and the Raptors could put together a package that works, I'm not sure that's really what this team is set up for. They've got a combination of a starting lineup with continuity, and a bench with a bunch of young players with upside. It's a very, very good team and I think that's where they're going to be because that one move to put this team over the top just isn't there, unless Paul Millsap is available...
Mitch Robson: The current set are real slick, but the original purple dinosaurs will forever be my favourite. Cum stains and all.
John Gaudes: Easy: the 20th anniversary retro purples. Everyone looked good in those.
Sean Woodley: The re-brand last season was inarguably gorgeous from court, to jersey to logo. When the Raptors roll out their new reds on the road, it's impossible for you not to be pleased aesthetically — especially when the home team opts to sport their own colourful look. All that said, I'm partial to the jersey of my childhood. Purple in the front, black in the back is a unique look in NBA jersey history, and was the uniform Vince Carter brought to fame. There's no way it would avoid ridicule if it were released in 2016, but it ranks number one in my book.
Dan Grant: I mean, come on.
The new ones are far more tasteful, but it doesn't get better than those sweet babies.
Harsh Dave: Low-key, these were fire.
Alex Wong: The originals. I'll never hate on the dinosaur. Also these new Toronto Huskies alternates are great.
CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR THREE MORE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS IN PART 2.