After many months away — but not as many as usual — the Toronto Raptors take the floor tonight to tip-off their 2016-17 NBA season. We made it.
Well, sort of. There are a plethora of injury concerns right now for the Raptors, and the last pre-season game (against them hated Wizards) was a debacle. But let’s push that from our mind. Positivity only, people. The Raptors won 56 games last year and brought most of the team back together. [Pours one out for Biz.] They may slip a bit, but this is still a very good (and entertaining) basketball team.
The Detroit Pistons, meanwhile, are a hopeful club in the Eastern Conference run by the lovable IDGAF Stan Van Gundy, and pose something of a challenge. They want to grab the three or four-seed in the conference, and maybe put a scare into the Raptors and their grip on the 2-3 spot. It could happen? Eh, it’s early, and Reggie Jackson is hurt.
Here are three things to watch as we head into the first game of the 2016-17 Raptors season and tonight’s game against the Pistons.
Who’s Playing the 4?
After spraining his ankle in the last pre-season game, Lucas Nogueira is out tonight. He’s a 5. After getting his foot stepped on, and needing surgery, Jared Sullinger is also out. He’s a 4/5. If you’re doing the math at home, this leaves the Raptors with exactly two NBA ready big men — Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson. This means the Raptors are going to have to get funky with the 4-spot — and really, the entire big man rotation. The first choice will be a smallball lineup with DeMarre Carroll at the PF spot, playing with JV (and presumably DeMar DeRozan, Cory Joseph and Kyle Lowry; it’s a potent lineup we almost never saw last season because of injury).
But the second choice means one thing: big time minutes for rookie Pascal Siakam. You ready? Hooooo boy, get ready. (And with Nogueira out for at least a game or two, we’ll probably see some Jakob Poeltl minutes tonight too. Let’s get it!)
Jonas Valanciunas, the Big Concern
If you’ve been following friend of the site (and, heartfelt sigh, friend in real life) William Lou on Twitter and elsewhere, you may have gotten the feeling that something is amiss with the Raptors newly hirsute Lithuanian. He has not... well, he has not looked great. And this is a concern because, as I just mentioned, he is Toronto’s only known quantity (and quality) centre.
The box score here only tells part of the tale. A close reading of Valanciunas’ typical stat lines suggests efficiency and effectiveness in small doses. He’s put up some casual double-doubles without really breaking a sweat. But he’s also spent most of the summer (where he disappointed at the Olympics), and the pre-season, looking the hell out of sorts. This all came to a head last Friday when the Wizards (pre-season, but still!) ran roughshod all over the Raptors, with poor Jonas looking more and more overwhelmed as the night went on.
Here’s hoping Valanciunas is up for the challenge about to be thrust upon him. Especially as the Pistons’ Andre Drummond, world crusher, rolls into town — and towards the rim — tonight.
Hey, you know what, let’s enjoy it
Yeah! The Raptors did play much later into 2016 than perhaps we would have normally expected. They were still on their feet until May 27th, which is, frankly, outstanding. But still: the June, July, August, September, and (most of) October months are long. The summer was nice, but we want basketball to be back in our lives. The Raptors are a good team with some buzz about them (sad injuries not withstanding).
Let’s enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Where to Watch: 7:30pm, TSN