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HQ Mailbag: On Toronto’s past and future (and Kawhi)

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The Raptors still haven’t lost a game, and we’ve got more questions to answer in this week’s edition of the HQ Mailbag.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Raptors are just straight up good. And that’s, uh, good. What’s also good is answering some cool mailbag questions. So, let’s dive right in to Week 2 of the HQ Mailbag. Fun stuff ahead.

My reaction to reading this question was that sort of head-tilt you do when you’re unsure. It might be about Kawhi-DeMar because of their own abilities to spread the floor. It might not be—I think it’s more not than it is.

I think this is really more a question of roster optimization versus roster utilization. The Raptors, both this season and last, run deep: On any given night, it’s not out of the question to see everyone dressed hit the floor—first, the group of starters, then that “Bench Mob”, then we get some garbage time. The Raps were really good last season—with regular season rankings in the top 5 in both O-RTG and D-RTG—as painfully as that year ended.

But last season’s lineups included both Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl, two more-traditional bigs to back up the traditional starting centre in Jonas Valanciunas. The depth at the traditional centre position was used—all three were valuable big men, worthy of minutes, and I miss them both dearly even given how much I love this new team. Dwane Casey liked using them both, as he worked to build a distinction between starter and bench player. Now with Bebe and Jak gone, things are different.

This season, despite signing Greg Monroe as back-up centre, Toronto appears happy to start small on any given night and to take Ibaka out of the four-spot that he’d traditionally play and put him at the five. Either he or Valanciunas comes off the bench, Pascal Siakam (or OG Anunoby) starts at the four, and we’re off to the races. What Nick Nurse has opted for thus far is to optimize—he’s done an excellent job finding the right fit for the “modern” NBA. Serge Ibaka still has power forward skills (he certainly started his career that way), but the NBA’s shifting to that kind of player at the five, and it requires a certain roster depth and player flexibility to let him do that. I think we’re finally getting that in Toronto.

In thinking about it, I’m going to pick choice A—I’m a glass half-full kind of guy and I think what we’ve seen from the Raptors thus far is different. Normally, given Toronto’s past, I’d be reserved and not want to say that, but I think the way the Raptors are able to match teams with their various lineups is fun and exciting and really, really good. Zach Lowe even kicked off his 10 things column this week with Raptors words!

Through just five games, the Raptors are 4th in point differential at +10.8, per Cleaning the Glass, behind only New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Golden State. Even then, Ben Falk’s site has them projected for 65 wins. They’ve been so awesome so far this season that I lean to choice A. On top of that, this reality is hammered home by remembering that the Raptors will likely have the best player in any playoff series, depending on how high you are on (future Raptor) Giannis Antetokounmpo. This is the magic Kawhi Leonard brings to your team.

For seemingly no particular reason, I absolutely love the idea that the Raptors’ two best players are initialled KL. This meant that:

  1. I get to try my best over the course of 82+ games to do some wordplay with that. Is there wordplay with initials? Either way, my Twitter account would like to thank Masai Ujiri for this blessed opportunity. Kawhi has already helped my content—I’d like to promote one of my tweets from Montreal about OG and Kawhi right here. I thought it was really good. Here’s hoping Kawhi and Kyle give me plenty more opportunities in the games to come.
  2. I can start doing research on how many times a team’s two best players were same-initial guys. I don’t know how to find this result but if anyone can start pitching me other examples, that’d be awesome. Throw them in the comments, let’s make a list!

As for whether Kawhi was meant to be a Raptor, I started skeptical. It was of course reported that “Kawhi has no desire to play in Toronto”; we also had to give up fan-favourite and Toronto legend DeMar DeRozan. All in all, the trade was an emotional time. But it’s become clear that we haven’t had a player this good in Toronto in some time, if ever.

But is Leonard meant to be a Raptor now? Absolutely. We deserve this. Let’s have some fun. Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor. And that’s incredible. Here’s to it being incredible for a lot more games this season.

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That’s it for this week’s mailbag. Make sure to mail me your questions next week in one of three ways: e-mail RaptorsHQSBN@gmail.com, tweet @61gabester or @RaptorsHQ with #HQMailbag, or DM me on Twitter for the possibilities of snail-mail (Be warned: This could mean your question gets answered several weeks from now.)