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HQ Roundtable: On the Raptors’ hot start in the East, Halloween scares, and more

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Happy Halloween! This is no trick: the Raptors are off to a great start and will look to keep it rolling. Let’s discuss a few things from the past week.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Hello and Happy Halloween! Welcome to the Raptors HQ Roundtable, I’m your host, Sully Akbari! We’re back again to discuss news and storylines around the Toronto Raptors, as well as general topics within the NBA. To help me out for this week’s edition, I am joined by Josh Kern and Conor McCreery.

The Raptors are now 7-1, and there’s a lot to talk about. Grab yourself a piece of candy (or two) and enjoy!

1) Whose overall play has impressed you so far: Kyle Lowry or Kawhi Leonard?

Sully Akbari: Both Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have played really well overall — but with the former, it was almost expected, and with the latter I’ve been extremely impressed. Through eight games, Lowry is on his way to having a career-year. His field goal three-point and true shooting percentages are way up, and his assists numbers are off the charts. He’s currently leading the league thus far with 11.1 helpers per game. Lowry seems much calmer and relaxed on the court (relatively speaking), and has been comfortable controlling the pace of the game on both ends of the floor. That’s why Lowry has impressed me: he’s doing all the things he usually does, but at an even more efficient rate.

Josh Kern: Gotta be Lowry, even after Monday’s sub-par outing—and Tuesday’s sensational Leonard performance. Overall Leonard has been as advertised—awesome on both ends, but a little rusty, working his way back into shape. Lowry, though, has just been spectacular. We’ve all seen Lowry go in “KLOE mode” in games or quarters over the years, where he just decides “we’re not losing this one” but I don’t think we’ve seen it sustained over a six-game stretch like that—and judging by last night, Monday was an aberration. It’s been a joy to watch.

Conor McCreery: Oh man, tell me to chop the baby in half, why don’t you Solomon? Am I more impressed by Kawhi’s surgical precision, or Kyle’s full primal-scream level KLOE turn? I guess, I’ll say, Kyle. For two reasons:

First, I wasn’t sure if Lowry had this in him, at least emotionally after the DeMar DeRozan trade. And Second, Kyle is still the driving heart of the Raps. Kawhi may be better, but the Raps have always taken on the emotional tone of their diminutive point guard, and while Kyle has been great like this before, he looks somehow more confident and relaxed. It’s that – the confidence and the calm, that I think has been the missing piece for Toronto in playoffs past

2) Is it possible that Milwaukee is the most dangerous team in the East?

Sully: Milwaukee is a dangerous team, yes, but are they the most dangerous team in the East? I say no, that would have to go to the Raptors and the Celtics — who are still trying to figure things out. The thing with Milwaukee is that they have Giannis Antetokounmpo, a legit superstar, but they don’t have another star to go along with him. No one can do it on their own in this league, and that is how I see it with Giannis carrying the Bucks on his back. Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are both great, don’t get me wrong, and the Bucks do have a few solid players but the Raptors and Celtics are surrounded with multiple stars and have more key pieces that can be relied upon.

Josh: Sure. It’s possible, but I still think Boston and Toronto are better overall teams, and will finish with better records. Now, in a playoff series, the Bucks might have the single best player out of those three teams, and as a team they can shoot the lights out—that makes them a dangerous playoff opponent capable of upsetting just about anyone. But the roster depth in Boston and Toronto still makes both of them more likely to come out of the East.

Conor: I wrote this answer before Monday night’s shellacking and nothing has changed. I think it’s entirely possible. Giannis may be the best player in basketball. Period. Khris Middleton was dynamite last year in the playoffs — like, terrify you, dynamite. Eric Bledsoe is a good player. Everyone shoots threes.

Last year, the Bucks’ issue offensively was scheme. With Coach Bud in there, that’s not an issue. If they spread the floor and give Giannis the ball what do you do? Even Kawhi Leonard can’t be expected to bottle up The Freak one-on-one in space.

They might not be great defensively — although they have the pieces to be quite good — given their length everywhere, and they aren’t as deep as you might like (though if Tony Snell, Donte DiVincenzo, and Thon Maker all play well that isn’t even an issue – and against the Raps on Monday they combined for 34-18-5), but this could be the best offense in the league — non-“Warriors Are Trying” division — and we’ve seen how the Cavs ran through the East with an elite offense.

3) Should the Raptors go after Kevin Love when he becomes trade-eligible in January?

Sully: If it wasn’t for Love’s injury history and a price that could include one of the Raptors’ key young pieces, I’d maybe pull the trigger. Those are a lot of qualifications though, so as it currently stands I would have to say no. This Raptors team is good just the way it is. As solid a player as Love is on the offensive end of the floor (and on the glass, where the Raptors have struggled), I wouldn’t want to give up the team’s versatility in switching lineups and rotations on a game-to-game basis.

Josh: Nah. I like Love’s game overall, and I think he’d fit beautifully with Leonard, Lowry, and Siakam on offense. But he’s had trouble staying healthy, he certainly wouldn’t help the defense, and more importantly, his massive contract doesn’t fit in with the Raptors’ current window.

Conor: Woof. That’s a tough one. One one hand Kevin Love is really, really, really, good. I think he’s been horribly nit-picked to death these past few years because of playing beside LeBron (and the fact that the rest of that Cavs team was pretty blah), but he’s still a walking double-double, and maybe the best volume shooting big man in league history. He’d bring the Raptors a much-needed, to me, third bedrock on offense. He’s a walking mismatch, and if you played him at centre, the Toronto offense would be nuclear.

On the other hand, assuming Love is fully healthy by the time he’s eligible to be dealt, he’s a mediocre defensive player in space, where every good playoff team will try to bring him. If Ibaka’s early start is for real, then we may not have the need at frontcourt (even though Love is far better than Ibaka — Serge might bring more of what the Raps need — rim protection, and the ability to stay with a perimeter player for a couple of beats), and Love is signed to $120 million over four years. If Kawhi does leave, that contract could make it hard for Masai to pivot into, well, into whatever Masai’s got planned next.

So, taking a deep breath, and being ignorant as to what the cost would be, I have to say no?

Bonus (Boo-nus?) Halloween Questions!

In terms of on-court play and presence, who is the scariest Raptor in franchise history?

Sully: There have been plenty of scary players on the Raptors over their 24-year history. But I have only witnessed a little more than half of that, so I am going based off what I watched during these more recent years. This may be a hot take but I’m going with Reggie Evans. Don’t get me wrong, Evans wasn’t a top-5 player in the league but he posed enough fear in me that if I were to drive in the lane and see Evans waiting for me in the paint, I am pulling it all the way out and committing a backcourt violation. If I were to go up for a rebound and see Evans there with me, guess what? That’s his rebound now. Simply put, I want no business with that man. Also, he’s still going strong in last season’s BIG3 League!

Josh: Lots of good options here, but I think it might be Kawhi Leonard? Who strikes more fear into opponents than a guy who can score from literally anywhere on the floor, can completely disrupt your passing lanes, and totally shut down your best player? I can tell you that Ben Simmons is gonna be seeing Kawhi in his nightmares for the next week. What’s really scary is that Leonard’s already doing all of this, and he doesn’t even look like he’s at full strength yet.

Conor: It’s Charles Oakley. And I will not even listen to any other answers. This is the man who once inspired me to write 1,000 words on how he should have his own game show, called “Pay Oak His Money!” (Sample game show challenge: slapping the skin off Tyrone Hill’s face.) So yeah, Oak.

Which scary start is for real—Houston Rockets (1-5), Oklahoma City Thunder (2-4) or the Washington Wizards (1-6)—and how horrified should their fans be?

Sully: Let’s be real. Washington has a meltdown every year but seeing them collapse this early in the season is shocking. Sure, they haven’t been able to get over the hump the past few years but this 1-6 start is a clear sign that there has to be a major shakeup coming. They still have the talent to maybe figure it out and make the playoffs, but this team isn’t making a run for the Eastern Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals, so what are they really playing for? Their fan base should be caving in now, management should be getting cleaned out, and a rebuilding phase should be coming.

I was going to say Houston but they’re still figuring out how to play with their new acquisitions and haven’t had a fully healthy team to get games in. More importantly, their franchise player and the 2017-18 NBA MVP, James Harden, is also out with a hamstring injury with no timetable to return.

Josh: Washington, although, it wasn’t totally unexpected; this team did scare the crap out of their fans by signing Dwight Howard, after all. But if I’m a Wizards fan, I’m thinking, this team underachieved the last two seasons, they’ve started 1-6, the guys can’t stop bitching at each other and get through a game without some sort of meltdown, they’re locked into Wall, Beal, Porter, and Mahinmi for $85 million this year and $107 million (!!!) next year... and Howard hasn’t even played a game yet! No Hollywood horrormeister could write a scarier script.

Conor: I mean, it’s probably Washington. But I’m not sure it matters that much, because they could be bad and barely make the playoffs in the East, and we’d still have to read all this garbage about how “any team led by an all-star backcourt like John Wall and Bradley Beal is a threat to get to the Conference final and blah… blah… blah…”, like the last six years never happened.

Really though, if I were a Rockets fan I’d be scared. Not because Houston is going to be bad. They won’t be. But because it looks very possible that Houston just saw the window to win a title close up. It seems very likely that this year’s Rockets don’t have the juice to top the Warriors — unless they give up four first-round picks, and lavish a 30-year old, somewhat injury prone Jimmy Butler with a $150 million-plus extension. But what else can they do? They’re so all in right now. Honestly, I never thought I would feel sorry for a team with James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela, but here we are.

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That does it for this week, let us know if you have any topics we should cover in the comments below. Make sure to check in next Wednesday as the Raptors will be wrapping up the fourth and final game of their first Western Conference road trip (at Suns, Lakers, Jazz, and Kings) of the season.

Happy Trick-or-Treating!