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HQ Mailbag: Questions of contending and pretending in Toronto

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In the return of the HQ Mailbag, we answer the big questions on life, education... and Raptors crunch-time fives.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

I’m back. I don’t know if you missed me or not, but Daniel Reynolds did. With me comes the Raptors HQ mailbag. We’re here to answer questions about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness every week — within the framework of the Toronto Raptors of course.

Now, let’s do this.

A classic two-part question disguised as one! To catch you all up: Life is good. School is good. I often feel busy and feel like I have a lot of work to do at all times. Overall, though, both are fun—I’m working hard to strike work-life balance.

Work-life balance is such a fun term. Work? Three English classes, a computer science class, and a psychology class. Life? HQ — and other various sports interests/pursuits — as well as the school newspaper. Then, I watch a lot of movies and TV. This is something site manager Reynolds may know something about in his own life.

  1. I go through sitcoms I have or haven’t seen in full every once in a while, dedicating myself to a full-on, straight-through re-watch. I’m in season six of Seinfeld right now.
  2. I like checking out the latest in cinema, and the word cinema makes that sound like a haughtier pursuit than it is. Jordan, because I know you’re an Oscars fan like I am, yes, I can believe Green Book won Best Picture. But, no, I can’t actually believe it won. I haven’t seen it.

But enough about me, let’s get to some basketball questions.

I like the Indiana Pacers as much as the next guy, even if I don’t know exactly how much the next guy likes the Indiana Pacers. That said, I do not believe they’re a threat anymore. Sorry, Pacers fans. Without Victor Oladipo, the juice the Pacers had heading into the season and the playoffs is mostly gone. They’ve been great without him — shoutout to Nate McMillan and company — but when it comes playoff time, I’m not sure their recipe for success will last. Another shoutout though: Domantas Sabonis is very clearly much improved. (Most Improved though? No.)

Still, I want to point out one key thing with the Pacers here. Raps fans need to be cheering for them to keep their spot in the East. Whether or not last year changed your feelings about seeding, the Raptors having to only play one of Boston, Philly, or Milwaukee to get to the NBA Finals is ideal. If Indiana holds onto the three seed, well, we’ll get what I want.

I think he’s being passive. I’d love for him to find a groove and start taking and making his jump shots. I think he’s working to find a comfort zone as a Raptor, and part of that comes with a changing role. He’s coming off the bench and it’s with players he’s less than a month into playing with. (Note: Norman Powell, whose buckets vs. Boston on Tuesday came exclusively from Gasol passes, is thankful for this.)

However, a lot of the passiveness has been useful so there is an element of it by design. In a sense, Gasol has assumed C.J. Miles’ Bench Dad role as the strong-willed calming force — except since he’s one the team’s best play-makers, the dividends are much different. Gasol slows things down, finds cutters, slashers, dashers, whatever, and communicates how the team should operate on both ends of the floor. Gasol isn’t finding his own shot because he is having fun playing around with his new friends, which means he doesn’t have to (yet).

That sort of builds into the next — and final — question of this week’s mailbag.

I’m another one to quibble. If there’s one thing Nick Nurse has branded himself as, it’s an “experimenter.” How much he has actually experimented is up for debate (some zone, some playing around with starters, some leaving lineups in too long).

One thing he should stop experimenting with is starting Serge Ibaka. Don’t get me wrong, I love Serge Ibaka as much as the next guy. (Yes, I’m just going to keep writing “as much as the next guy” as a qualifier in all contexts.)

But much of Ibaka’s success has come from pick-and-pop/pick-and-roll chemistry with the Toronto Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry. They work really well together, and, in the previous bench form (a.k.a. pre-trade deadline), it might not have been so obvious a fit to put Ibaka out there with Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright together.

Now, though, Ibaka’s fit on the bench is better. He and Jeremy Lin are an obvious fit to develop a Lowry-replacement chemistry, and it’ll really benefit the both of them there. On top of that, I think Gasol helps the ball move a little more in the starting lineup, and his passing will really, really be fun to watch with Pascal Siakam cutting — the two have the best Net Rating of any Gasol two-man lineup (including that Norm combo I mentioned earlier).

As for a crunch-time five, start your best five and end with your best five: Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Siakam, Gasol.

I know that for Milwaukee and Boston and Philly, we’ll see some different types of centres: Brook Lopez, Al Horford, and Joel Embiid bring different sorts of things to the table. Gasol brings the right kind of size and stretchability to cover all three, and also be respected by all three to pull them out of the paint. He’s just going to need to find his shot some more for that to happen.

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That’ll do it for this week’s mailbag. As always, send in questions on Twitter and tag @61gabester and/or @RaptorsHQ and/or use the hashtag #HQMailbag.