This year we’re going to try something different on Thursdays — we’re using our Raps HQ slack to get our fearless cadre of writers’ opinions on a host of topics each week.
We’ll dive into the biggest questions for the Toronto Raptors and the NBA in general and try to make sense of this, the NBA’s 75th anniversary season.
Have a question you want us to chew on? Throw it down in the comments below and we’ll try to get at it!
So, without further ado...
1) True or False: The Raptors will finish higher than 16th in offensive rating (what they did last year).
Conor McCreery: Ugh, the opener makes me cringe a bit for this answer but... True? While Toronto will miss Kyle Lowry, the narrative that this team can’t shoot is overblown. Seven rotation players have a career three point field goal percentage of 36% or higher, and the others are Malachi Flynn, Pascal Siakam, and centres Birch and Achiuwa as well as the rookies (Barnes and Banton). With the level of play-making up and down the roster, I see the Raps’ generating a lot of open looks, more of which will go down then the current narrative suggests.
Josh Kern: False. I don’t disagree about the shooting, but, I still don’t think the team will execute well in the halfcourt. I’m not sure if it’s a Nick Nurse blindspot or a personnel issue, but there just don’t seem to be a lot of creativity in the way they go about generating shots. And they were bad with Lowry, so I don’t really see it getting better this year
JD Quirante: True. Nick Nurse finally got a team that fits his manic style, so I expect the Raptors to lean heavily on transition and three-pointers for their offense. I expect the Raptors to have a high-variance offense. They would smother the unprepared opponents, forcing turnovers/bad shots, leading to transition opportunities or shooting themselves out of the game early on. If the latter happens, it could be an early garbage time, which would bring our shooting/offense up. I don’t expect a lot of close games, especially not until Siakam’s 100%.
Jay Rosales: True. If I’m guilty of one thing, it’s drinking too much of the Raptor Kool Aid. However, believe me when I say that I originally marked this down as False. If I’m guilty of anything else, it’s that I’m easily persuaded by fact/stat-based arguments. I’ll continue the guilt-admission trip by admitting that my answer changed because of the answers before mine. This team will finish top-2 (and not 2) in transition offense, which should more than make up for the holes in the half-court offense and prop up the team from “below-average” to “at-least-average.”
John Gaudes: False, but not by much. I think given the context of the greater NBA, the Raptors are going to be one of very few teams to emphasize their defense before their offense, with Nick Nurse saying as much in the preseason — this is going to be a team that thrives off transition points created by steals, mayhem, and annoying the shit out of the other team. I do see this being an offense in the 18-21 range, which isn’t necessarily an insult given the game plan here. The half court offense issues will only be magnified for the games Pascal Siakam is out, too.
2) True or False: Svi Mykhailiuk will finish the season with more minutes than Yuta Watanabe.
J.D.: True: First, let me start with, I’m a big Yuta fan. However, I see Yuta as a “ rotation injury replacement utility guy, “ unless he can come in aggressive offensively as he did in the preseason. He’s probably the 11th or 12th guy on the roster, and there’s a lot of depth at his position. On the other hand, Svi offers a microwave offense and a secondary creator that Nurse might be forced to use, especially if Dragic/GTJ struggles. I just see a much clearer path to minutes for Svi than Yuta at this point.
John: False. Nick Nurse is a guy who plays his favourites and I’m not sure he gushed over someone who played so few minutes in the preseason than Yuta. I also think Watanabe’s international experience over the summer is going to slow the NBA game down for him, which is critical for the growth of a guy who obviously processes the game very quickly.
Conor: False: I think it may be closer than people realize though. If Svi gets back to the stroke he showed in Detroit (40% on eight threes per 36 minutes), then he’s going to barge his way into some real minutes, as the Raps don’t have many guys who shoot a high percentage AND take a lot of threes. He’s also showed, arguably, more on the ball verve than Yuta. Still, I think Watanabe’s defense, and the fact I expect him to stretch his game more this season, will keep him ahead of the ‘Ukraine Maker’
(no, seriously, that’s his nickname, it’s on Basketball Reference and everything!)
Joseph Strauss: Firstly, Basketball Reference has some absolutely absurd nicknames on it and might even be coming up with originals at this point.
Secondly, I like Watanabe in this debate because, as others have pointed out, his best traits are the ones that make Nick Nurse giddy. It’s true that Watanabe’s path to minutes will be a little more crowded with the team at full strength, but I’d also be shocked if the Raptors remain at full strength following Siakam and Boucher’s returns. Unless we see a regression in Watanabe’s shooting and aggressiveness on offense – and, to this point, both have been trending upwards – I think Nurse keeps Yuta on regular minutes.
Josh: No one told me these questions were gonna be hard! Gonna go with false, but I think it really depends on if Watanabe’s three-point stroke is legit. If he can actually shoot the rock as well and as confidently as he looked in his brief preseason appearance, he can be close to the same offensive threat as Svi — and offer a stronger defensive presence. Add in the “institutional knowledge” from his time last year, and I’ll give Yuta the nod.
Jay: True. Svi started his career with the Lakers and averaged just over 10 minutes a game. Playing for the Raptors is not the same as being pushed down the depth chart behind Lebron James, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma. However, Toronto’s also not a tanking team like the Thunder, so I wouldn’t expect him to average 23 minutes either. Let’s average him out to 16.5 minutes. Yuta had a healthy stretch of minutes last season and that only amounted to 14.5 minutes per game. If this were a battle for best nickname on the team, The Chosen One would probably win. Alas, that’s not the case, so the Ukraine Maker wins this round.
3) True or False: Dalano Banton will finish the season with more minutes played (as a Raptor) then Goran Dragic.
J.D.: False. I expect Dragic’s situation to drag until the trade deadline, and he’ll be part of the rotation until then. I expect banton to stay with the 905 until then. The Raps also hedged by keeping Bonga, so I don’t expect Banton with the main club unless there’s a significant injury to VanVleet/Dragic/Flynn. The recent Mavs waivers (Bey, Terry) suggest that the Raptors are not interested on those two pieces, so I think the Mavs and the Raps are far from having an agreement centering (pun intended) on Moses Brown/Dragic. There will be a bidding process, and I’m pretty sure the Raps will go with the highest bidder.
Mitch Orsati: I agree with False on this one and think it has more to do with Banton than Dragic. I’d put money on Banton being the G League MVP.
Conor: False. I’m with J.D. in that I’m not down with the Dallas rumours. Are either of Brown or Dwight Powell needle movers for what the Raps’ want to do?
Even IF a Dragic deal does come to pass, I have a hard time seeing Banton getting much court-time. He’s so raw that I think the Raps’ want him on the ball a ton in the G-league, rather than scrounging 8-10 minutes a night - despite his rapturoous debut. Injuries to FVV or Flynn could create a pathway, I suppose, but I feel Dragic plays enough as a Raptor until the trade deadline that even if Banton gets run, it won’t be enough to make this all that close.
Josh: False as well, for all the reasons JD and Conor already noted. It’s a bummer, because of course I want the Toronto kid to play, especially at home, and because he’s got a super-fun skillset — he’s very entertaining to watch. But, those skills still need a lot of honing and polishing, and he’ll have more opportunity to do that with the 905.
4) Who are the six Eastern teams who make the playoffs (so not play-in game), and if the Raps’ aren’t there where will they finish?
Mitch: Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, Philly (Raps finish 9th!)
Zakaria Abdulle: Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Miami, Philly, should be the top 5. I think 6th and below is very fluid. Boston, New York, Chicago, and Toronto could all make 6th if they stay healthy. I’m going to say Toronto makes 6th off the power of their home record. The tenth spot should be between Indiana and Charlotte
Conor: My six Eastern teams are Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Boston
Toronto will be in 8th but need to beat he winner of 9-10 to make the playoffs.
JD: I have Nets, Bucks, Heat as guaranteed, but I think there’s a middle of the pack of Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, Hawks, Sixers, Raptors, Pacers where the 4th-10th spot will be fluid throughout the season. Yes, quote me on that — the Raps will be in the mix. They tried to be as bad as possible last season and barely escaped the 10th seed by tanking.
Jay: MIL, BKN, PHI, ATL, MIA, TOR (I’ve got the Raps in the play-in range everywhere else, so I’ll hedge here)
This prediction is part bias (Raptors!) and part Debbie Downer on every East team outside of the top-4. Toronto’s going to exceed expectations because they have the right pieces to surprise folks. The post-Kawhi seasons have been an odd mix of the old (excellent individual defenders) and new (excellent team defenders). With everyone buying in on switching (partially because they all have the same physical builds), this will be a top-5 defense. The offense may not have the shooters, but hot damn is it filled with playmakers, board crashers, and transition starters! 30 home wins sounds like too much to ask, but they’ll surely steal a game or 5 with the Scotiabank Arena crowd starving like un-fed lions.
Joseph: I’m predicting something along the lines of a MIL, BKN, MIA, ATL, PHI, BOS top six.
As for the Raptors? They should be much more competitive than last year, especially if they can stay afloat while Siakam is out. But the top of the East is pretty damn good and it’s hard to see a path to the top six that doesn’t involve some bad opponent injury luck or Svi Mykhailiuk inexplicably scoring 20 points per game. I’ll say they make the play-in, and for specificity bonus points, they finish ninth.
5) Who are the six Western teams who make the playoffs?
Joseph: I’m thinking UTA, LAL, PHX, GSW, DEN, DAL, with Portland just on the outside looking in. A fun conference with an unfortunate amount of star power out with injuries. Even minus Klay Thompson and Jamal Murray, though, Curry and Jokic are just so good (and the Warriors’ depth has improved + possible MPJ breakout incoming) that they can get their teams to the playoffs.
Jay: UTA, PHX, DEN, DAL, POR, LAL (in that order). Warriors, Clippers (Kawhi will return), Grizz, and T-Wolves (surprise!). Also, if this is true, the Zion-wants-out rumours will be rampant.
JD: Is it insane to say that I only have Jazz, Suns, and the Grizzlies as a lock? I don’t trust a lot of the other team’s situation (injuries, talent, chemistry, drama, age, etc.) so I see a similar middle of the pack of Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Blazers, Mavs, and Warriors jockeying between the 4th-9th spots until perhaps the last week of the season?
Conor: My six Western teams are: Utah, Phoenix, Lakers, Denver, Portland, Golden State. The hardest omission was Dallas, but I feel like Dame and Curry have better supporting casts than Luka does, and they DIDN’T just lose one of the few coaches who actually moves the needle.
Mitch: Phoenix, Utah, Denver, Portland, LA x2
6) Will Ben Simmons be a 76er for the Christmas Day games, and if not where will he be?
Conor: I should have made this: “TRUE or FALSE Ben Simmons will play more games for the Sixers than Kyrie will for the Nets” — which, honestly, I’m not even sure how to approach — but with the Q asked: I DID think Simmons and the Sixers would learn to play nice, and that the deal might not get done to the offseason when Dame would be ready to ask out – but after Simmons got suspended for being a dick in practice… I still think Morey is going to hold’em. He ain’t trading an asset unless he gets a real return.
Mitch: I send my thoughts and prayers to Philadelphia fans, because it feels like that dude is there till the extremely bitter end. Just feels like Morey is taking this personally.
Jay: Morey will turn down Miami’s offer of Aaron Williams, Eric Williams, and Alonzo Mourning and reluctantly accept Minnesota’s package centered around D’Angelo Russell + a bevy of picks. (Editor’s note: Too soon, Rosales! Too soon!)
JD: I took an online sabbatical after the draft, and I’ve only been catching up with all the news after the preseason. I’m still on the “Simmons’ Sixers teammates wanted to take a jet to meet with him this week” news, but my money is on Simmons still a Sixer by Christmas Day. The Sixers will hold him hostage lol.