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HQ Roundtable: With injuries and other struggles, can the Raptors shore up their bench?

It’s almost Black Friday so we looked into signings and trades the Raptors could get for cheap, the Raptors’ use of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, and more around the NBA.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hello and welcome to the fifth edition of the Raptors HQ Roundtable. I’m Sully Akbari, your host. In this weekly series, I will be joined by two other HQ writers to discuss news on the Toronto Raptors and from around the NBA. Joining me this week are HQ compatriots Justin Robertson and Jay Rosales.

In this week’s edition, we will look at any cheap signings or trades the Raptors can look into as Black Friday is two days away. We also talk about Kyle Lowry’s workload, Steady Freddy VanVleet being not-so-steady, the state of the Washington Wizards, and the performance of the week.

All right, let’s jump in!

1) With Black Friday being two days away, do you think there are there any cheap deals (i.e. veteran’s minimum, buyout options, trades) the Raptors can pounce on later in the season?

Sully Akbari: I think the Raptors could use another guard for added depth. I say this because C.J. Miles is struggling and Norman Powell, who looked to be getting back on track prior to his shoulder injury, is inconsistent. The player the Raptors should look to add is Arron Afflalo. Toronto was looking to sign the 33-year-old veteran when he was bought out by the Orlando Magic last season but didn’t do it.

If the Raptors do sign Afflalo, I don’t think Powell would fall out of the rotation. Instead, Miles would because of Powell’s athletic ability and defensive versatility to match the Raptors’ style of play. A career 38 percent shooter from three, Afflalo could take C.J.’s minutes and potentially provide better shooting than what C.J. has been giving the Raptors as of late. I think it would be a good fit even though advanced stats don’t favour Afflalo. (I think that’s because of the many bad teams he’s played for the past several years.

Justin Robertson: This sounds wild but: what about Rockets-reject Carmelo Anthony? He’d slip into the C.J Miles role (sorry C.J.) and play the three-ball role and only the three-ball role. Because C.J. makes more than $8-million this season, and Melo signed for the veteran’s minimum in the offseason, both teams would have to get creative in getting a deal done to match salaries. Could you imagine having Kawhi, Ibaka, Lowry, Siakam, and Melo and then subsequent sub-in options of Jonas Valanciunas, OG Anunoby, Danny Green and Fred VanVleet? Maybe, just maybe, Melo is the missing piece to a Raptors championship run. The obvious homes for Melo are Lakers and Warriors but he’d fit better in Toronto, right? They should make a play for him.

Jay Rosales: In the case of a buyout, I debated a couple of big men on minimum salaries, in an effort to either add more shooting (Channing Frye - $2.4-million) or more defense and rebounding (Richaun Holmes - $1.6 million).

Ultimately, I landed on another wing. This player is hitting threes at a career-high pace of 41 percent, and also carries a true shooting percentage (58.7%) that is in line with the Raptors’ 4th ranked percentage (58.2%). For someone who would likely be at the end of the bench, this veteran acts as an insurance policy in case C.J. Miles continues to slump from outside (and has a better career defensive rating to boot). Have you figured it out yet? Should I mention he’s a former Raptor? It’s a shame the arena is no longer called the Air Canada Centre because Vince Carter would probably need a new nickname.

2) What do you think of Kyle Lowry’s workload/minutes?

Sully: Kyle Lowry is having a career-year and looks so much more relaxed when he is on the floor. His workload has been cut on either end of the floor thanks to Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, and Jonas Valanciunas.

However, Lowry is getting up there in age and has played a lot of minutes over his career — 25,146 minutes to be exact. Lowry has been going hard since the beginning of the season, especially in his last five games. Including Tuesday’s game against the Magic, he’s played 32, 29, 43, 38, and 33 minutes. That said, as much Lowry loves to play, I think it’s best to rest him against really bad teams just to keep him fresher longer. I’m not saying he should be rested the way Kawhi is being rested, but if he were to not get injured at all, I’d like the Raptors to rest him five to ten games over the 82-game season.

Justin: I don’t think it’s a question of too much. Nick Nurse plays Lowry according to when he needs him. And the Raptors need Lowry on the court as much as possible. He’s the heartbeat and momentum changer. Let’s not forget too, he’ an All-Star. Look at other teams and how they use their blue-chip stocks: Lakers and LeBron; Rockets and James Harden; Pelicans and Anthony Davis. The list goes on. Besides, I don’t think Lowry would have it any other way. He’s a workhorse. He loves the grind. I’m sure if he needed a rest, Nick Nurse would give him one but it’s not in Lowry’s DNA to rest.

Jay: Over his seven seasons with the Raptors, Lowry has averaged 34.5 minutes per game and a usage percentage of 23.5 percent. If the concern is his workload, he’s averaging 34.0 minutes and a 19.8 percent usage rate (which would be his lowest as a Raptor). If the concern is that Lowry’s minutes will revert back to the over-usage days of 2015-16 (where he averaged 37 minutes per game), he’s played 37 minutes or more on only three occasions this season. If the concern is the number of games he’s played, Lowry played 78 games last season (albeit on 1.5 minutes less per game), and easily had the best playoff season of his career. Lowry is too much of a gamer to ask for the “Kawhi rest treatment” and also isn’t returning from a season-ending injury. This was my long-winded way of saying “Everything is Fine.”

3) In his last five games, Fred VanVleet has scored 36 total points (with 18 coming 18 against the Bulls in an easy win). Coach Nick Nurse said he’s been “a shell of himself lately, in all phases.” What’s troubling VanVleet so far this year?

Sully: Just like any other player, I think with Fred missing a few games due to injury early in the season definitely disrupted his rhythm. That can be seen through his shooting struggles as he’s shooting 38.7 percent from the field and an awful 29.8 percent from deep, down from 41.4 percent from last year. Fred is a good enough player to adjust to any role, so it’s a just a matter of him having multiple games where he shoots the ball in order to get back to being consistent throughout the season. With a new team, new coach, and a new role, it was essential for Fred to play those games that he missed in order to get in regular-season shape.

Justin: It’s been an awkward start to the year for Fred. He shook off a nagging injury early in the year and has had to adjust to new team dynamics: new coach, new players (although Nick Nurse is not entirely “new.”) It’s his three-ball that isn’t dropping at the moment but his shot looked good against the Bulls. So maybe he’s back on track? Fans shouldn’t worry. It’s a long season full of spurts and slumps. He’ll find his shot again. Be patient.

Jay: VanVleet has been slept on over his entire basketball career. He wasn’t a recruited by any of the major NCAA programs, before becoming the Missouri Valley Conference MVP with Wichita State. He wasn’t a lottery pick, but was a Sixth Man of the Year finalist in his second season. All this is to say that Steady Freddy will work his way through this slump. Nurse’s words won’t change anything — the fire within VanVleet has already been fuelled.

His play is also a product of the offseason changes and subsequent lineup tweaks. Without Siakam to alleviate some of the ball-handling duties, in addition to Wright missing a few games to injury, VanVleet has been carrying a heavier load for the Bench Mob. After leading the reserves to the best net rating (for bench units) in the NBA in 2017-18, this season has seen a sudden drop to a negative net rating (19th overall). With the schedule lightening up and the team starting to find their stride, look for Fred to bounce back from this slow start.

Around the NBA news discussion:

1) What do you make of the current state of the Washington Wizards?

Sully: This Washington Wizards team and its core peaked last season, and because they didn’t act on making dramatic changes this past summer, they now have a big mess to deal with. With great talent coming into next year’s draft, I think the Wizards have to blow it up as soon as possible.

As difficult it that may be, they should look to unload John Wall, Ian Mahinmi and other players if need be (but should keep Bradley Beal) and get functional players and draft picks in return.

Justin: The early signs don’t look good for the Wizards. They look a bit dysfunctional. That said, I’d be willing to wait till the 30-game mark to see where things are at and then asses from there. By then the Wizards will have a decent sample size of how they are performing as a unit and who is performing. If they do decide to blow it up, they should build a team around Wall and Porter, and trade Beal, Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris, and Austin Rivers for some elite parts and some depth. They should try to develop Tomas Satoranksy, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Mahinmi. If they go this route it’s going to take a couple of years for the Wizards to get rolling again. But there’s hope in that. Right now, it’s hard to watch them play.

Jay: The NBA is truly the gift that keeps on giving. The dust from the Butler saga hasn’t even settled and now news breaks that the league’s most dysfunctional team (which is an incredible title to hold) is becoming more dysfunctional?!?

The time to blow up the Wizards was April. After getting eliminated by the Raptors, and with very little cap space, general manager Ernie Grunfeld should have read the tea leaves and started the trade discussions in the summer. Whether or not he actually did is a moot point now. The internal turmoil has reached a boiling point and resulted in the most uncomfortable of situations.

Next season’s salary cap will be set at $109-million. The Wizards have Porter, Beal, Wall, and Mahinmi locked in for $107.6 million!!! I seriously doubt any team will make a bid for Wall, whose Super Max extension kicks in next season ($37.8-million). Porter and Beal are attainable… if you want to pay $27-million each season until 2021. What I’m trying to get at is, the Wizards may have to stick it out with this roster. Besides, it’s not like there’s another team going through any internal fighting, so here is something to ignite the fire:

2) Who had the most impressive performance of the week? Kemba Walker’s 60 points, Jimmy Butler’s heroics against Charlotte, LeBron James’ 51 points against the Miami Heat, Kyrie Irving’s 43 points against the Raptors or Anthony Davis’ 43-17-5 against the New York Knicks?

Sully: I would have to say Kemba Walker’s career-high and franchise-record 60 points against the Philadelphia 76ers was the most impressive performance, even though it came in a loss. Throughout the entire game, Kemba was hitting tough shots that I have never seen him hit before (mind you, I only watch Hornets games when I can) and finished the game shooting 21-for-34 from the field. If there was any doubt that Kemba is the heart and soul of this Hornets team and that he needs better players around him, it has been squashed. #FreeKemba

Justin: I’d say the most intriguing narrative out of all of those mentioned, is Jimmy Butler’s heroics against the Hornets. Simply because of the bust-up with Karl-Anthony Towns, the trade from the Wolves and slipping into a team that was humming before he landed. There’s a lot of moving pieces there and for Butler to come up strong when it mattered most sends a pretty strong message that he can thrive in a team alongside Simmons and early MVP candidate Joel Embiid.

Jay: The Kemba game had a better Game Score (43.7 vs. 40.1), but I’m going with LeBron’s 51 Special. It was special because a) it was against his former team in Miami, b) LeBron became the sixth player to score 50 with three different teams, c) he passed Allen Iverson for sixth place for most career 50-point games, and d) that final 3-pointer! Yes, the shot was from 30 feet. Yes, it was totally unnecessary, especially when you consider this was a regular season game in November, which also was a blowout, on the road, against a team from the other conference.

That 3-pointer was apparently a dare from teammate, Lance Stephenson.

One more layer to that 3-pointer: has anyone asked Kyrie what he thinks???


That will wrap up the fifth edition of the HQ Roundtable series. Let us know if you have any topics we should cover in the comments below. Be sure to tune in next Wednesday in advance of Thursday’s Warriors-Raptors showdown. Before that though, the Raps play the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, debut the 2018-19 version of their Welcome Toronto night against the Wizards on Friday, the Miami Heat on Sunday and the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night.