The 2016-17 NBA season may have tipped-off yesterday, but the Raptors finally play for the first time tonight. As such, the Raptors HQ staff got together to answer additional pertinent questions before tip-off. Check out Part 1 of our roundtable here. Now, on to Part 2!
Mitch Robson: In the words of Hurricane Chris: Eh Bebe. Hopefully the ankle injury he sustained in the last pre-season game isn't at all serious, as he showed flashes against the Wizards of being a functional rotation big who can provide legit rim protection. Also "Long Weeknd" is an incredible nickname so the writing is on the wall.
John Gaudes: [takes a big drink of coffee] Guys, this is the year. Terrence Ross, in his fifth year, is finally going to become the consistent player the Raptors need.
We saw flashes in the pre-season. Most of Ross’ appearances showed him coming off the bench and flying around the court. He was providing on-ball pressure on defence. He made exactly half of his three-point shots. He shot 51.7 percent from the field!
If Ross and his many accessories can provide these numbers and limit the mental lapses, the Raptors will be crying joyful tears. Even if it’s just a trade audition, where Masai can finally move him and get some value, I’m good with that too. Rise up, T-Ross. It’s finally your time.
Sean Woodley: Norman Powell set the bar unfairly high for future unheralded Raptors picks last season. Rookie showings like Powell's, where he started down the stretch, shot the lights out and helped saved the damned season in the playoffs, are rare — especially for guys who don't even sniff lottery status.
Injuries and a lack of front court depth may thrust Pascal Siakam into a breakout-by-default. He's likely going to open the season in Jared Sullinger's starting spot, and the Raptors are flush with enough options to give him a super short leash. By virtue of simply being relied upon, Siakam has the opportunity to carve out a role that will extend beyond when ever the Raptors reach full health. It's dangerous to start expecting breakout rookie seasons by late picks, but Siakam has a shot to repeat an anomaly.
Dan Grant: I have to say, I am a Pascal Siakam fan. When you say 'break out' I'm talking about relative to expectations, of course. When the Raptors drafted Siakam, from Cameroon via New Mexico State, I think a lot of fans were thinking 'Bruno 2.0'. With Jared Sullinger going down, the opportunity is going to be there for him to get some minutes right away, and I think that through the pre-season, he's shown the energy and fortitude to be a player who has a successful rookie season. Good hands, runs the floor well, works his ass off on defense. This is a guy who has a chance to be a really good NBA player, and I think we're going to enjoy watching him learn.
Harsh Dave: Is Pascal Siakam a cop out answer? Somewhat by necessity, but also partially because I like his skill set. Siakam’s going to be the second pure PF option the Raptors have after Patrick Patterson. While his game undoubtedly requires polish, he has a nose for the ball, and plays with the type of infectious energy that the current frontcourt options don’t really have. He’s a different type of player from Bismack Biyombo, but I think his blend of energy and athleticism will have similar benefits for the Raptors from time to time. There will be growing pains, to be sure, but for a team that’s had such stability on the roster for the last couple of years, there’s some excitement that comes with the apprehension.
Alex Wong: Norm! Just copy and paste everything I said about Terrence Ross two years ago here.
Mitch Robson: Unless they acquire another All-Star level talent, you can't realistically expect them to beat LeBron as he remains the gatekeeper of the East, so another run to the conference finals while sticking it to the Celtics and winning the division would be quite nice as well.
John Gaudes: I hate the movie Groundhog Day, so I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but the Raptors need to get in a film room and watch it. This year, and in future years, success is about repeating the past. This team needs to get back to where they were, the Eastern Conference Finals, and hope that the Cleveland Cavaliers crack in some form.
To win the title, the Raptors need to at least be in position. Sure, they’ll lose again in all likelihood, but winning 50-plus games and getting back to where they lost last year? That’s a success for me.
Sean Woodley: Run it back. It's one thing to break into the realm of relevance for one fleeting season. It's entirely something else — something for daunting — for a team to become a fixture of late May. The LeBron Factor unfortunately puts a cap on what the Raptors can realistically shoot for this season. But that doesn't mean no joy can be gleaned from this coming season, or that groundwork can't be laid for future iterations of the team. Continuing the rehabilitation of the organization's image and sustaining deep-playoff success is a more than acceptable goal for Toronto to pursue this season.
Dan Grant: Positive growth. Look, it's unlikely that the Raptors are going to return to the Conference Finals. I hope they do, but the East is better as a whole, and doing that two years in a row is really tough. What I want to see is growth from the youngsters and the veterans alike. I want to see improved efficiency from DeMar DeRozan, improved defense from JV. I want to see Terrence Ross develop consistency. I want Norm Powell to become a regular in the rotation. I want health for DeMarre Carroll. I want the youth to chip in when they're given the opportunity. I want the tell-tale signs that this run of Raptors success is not a flash in the pan, that this is a winning environment now, and one that can be sustained in the long term. 'Championship or bust' is not where this team is at right now. Let's just get better.
Harsh Dave: We know what the Raptors are at this point. They are a perennial 50-ish win team that relies heavily on the brilliance of Lowry and DeRozan to achieve any modicum of success. They’ll make the playoffs, win a round or two, or maybe even none! None of this would really surprise me or disappoint me on the surface, because the Raptors are a team that is at the mercy of matchups come playoff time. Kyle Lowry will turn 31 this year. DeMar DeRozan is no longer playing on a bargain deal. For the Raptors to seamlessly move forward as an organization, it requires a long term view that has some of the young players on the roster continuing to take a step forward. To me, this season isn’t defined as a success by win totals or playoff successes beyond the obvious milestones (~50 games, win a series maybe). It’s by players like Terrence Ross, Norman Powell, Bebe Nogueira, Pascal Siakam showing significant improvement and rounding into dependable contributors, not even necessarily impact players.
Alex Wong: 50+ wins in the regular season and another deep playoff run.
Mitch Robson: I've got the Raps pegged at 53-29, as they won't go full out in a fight for the top seed in the East, preferring to get Lowry and DeRozan some extra rest down the stretch so that they're even just a bit more fresh than they were last postseason. Securing the 2- or 3-seed, they'll battle through a fantastic 2nd round series against the Pacers (after they upset the Celtics) and then once again falls to the Cavs in the ECF.
John Gaudes: My last answer might allude to an optimism that’s not quite there post-Sullinger injury, as I’ve got the Raptors winning 50 games and (sorry!) losing to Boston in seven in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
The banged-up status of this team heading into the season doesn’t bode well for them, but I’m flexible on my optimism depending on how healthy everyone can get (and whether they swing for the fences in the trade market).
Sean Woodley: The early-season kinks in the defense and shorthanded front court mean the lofty 56-win total of last season will be tough to reach. This is still a talented roster, though, led by one of the three or four best players in the depressing Eastern Conference. 52 wins, and a coin flip with the Celtics for the second-seed.
Dan Grant: I think with the improved East and particularly the Atlantic division, Toronto takes a slight step back in terms of wins and finishes at 49-33. With that said, if the positive steps I mentioned above come into play, this team could be a tougher out than last year, even with a lower regular season win total.
As for the playoffs, I see them heading to the second round.
Harsh Dave: 50-32. Lose in the second round to the Celtics.
Alex Wong: 56-26. Lose in the second round in seven games to the Celtics.
And on that final note of optimism: Let’s get this season started! Tip-off is at 7:30pm. Go Raptors.