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HQ Weekly Roundtable: Pascal’s back!

The Raptors HQ staff talks Spicy P’s return, Toronto being road-warriors, and the Jokic-Morris throwdown.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Toronto Raptors Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for another Raptors HQ Roundtable! The staff gets together each week on our Slack to talk about the most important things in the world of the Toronto Raptors and the NBA.

Usually it’s civil, but if you’re not careful you might get the Jokic special!

If you have anything you’d like the HQ team to discuss hit us up in the comments!

1) Spicy P is back! What are your expectations for the former All-Star this season?

J.D. Quirante: Likely similar to the player that we saw last season before he got injured. However, I would like to see him adjust to be more of a team player than an “every down” kinda guy on offense, now that we have OG making a big step.

Jay Rosales: Siakam’s return will only help the Raptors’ ascension from play-in to playoff contention. His presence helps FVV as a spot-up shooter, OG to alleviate double-teams, and Scottie to open up the lane. However, I do not expect his production to reach the All-NBA level he hit in 2019. That was the last time he had a proper offseason to train. Since then, he’s been hit by the pandemic (when he didn’t touch a basketball for weeks), the shortened 2019 offseason, the shortened 2020 offseason, and now the shoulder surgery.

Conor McCreery: I’m not sure. I worry we may see a player that’s still in his head — this time worrying about fit. I hope Nick Nurse finds a way to scheme Siakam into some more corner looks, where he’s traditionally been decent, maybe seeing some of those go down helps fuel his overall shooting vibe?

Joshua Kern: My expectations are high. He’s said and done all the right things and with Kyle Lowry gone Siakam is the team’s undisputed #1 option (when he shakes off the rust). I want to see numbers at least as good as two seasons ago and I want his scoring to be more consistent. The Raptors need a consistent offensive threat and that’s the role of a #1 guy.

Zakaria Abdulle: Let me preface this by saying, in my eyes, Siakam can do no wrong. I might as well be writing for the Pascal Propaganda account. My expectations for him this season is the same as last season: someone who can command double teams, make the correct reads and play within the flow of the offence.

We know what he’s capable of doing in single coverage. Very few players at his position can guard him one-on-one. I’m not one to judge solely on numbers but I’d hope that his numbers stay the same as last season on slightly better efficiency. With the ascension of Anunoby and arrival of Barnes, we don’t need Siakam to stuff the stat sheet for Toronto to be successful. We just need him to be a strong contributor on both ends. That’s something he’s shown he is quite capable of doing. As long as he can get his touches, I’m not worried one bit that he can’t fulfill his role as an on court leader for this squad.

Joseph Strauss: I think Siakam makes things easier for the offense once he’s back in rhythm, and his versatility on defense will be important for small-ball lineups. Teams who don’t properly gameplan for Siakam, or who don’t have the right personnel to defend him, will get burned. But in order to really take this team up a level – and to fit better alongside Scottie Barnes – we need to see how confident Siakam’s outside shooting is.

2) Who do you think is hurt the most, minutes wise, by Siakam’s return?

J.D.: Khem Birch. He was on the verge of stealing back his starting spot from Precious. However, it looks like the Raps wants to see what Precious can do this season, so I think he’ll get the backup big minutes. Birch is a known commodity, so whether he gets DNP for 10 straight games, we know what he brings to the table if he gets to play 20 mins the next time.

Jay: Chris Boucher would appear to be the odd man out. Birch is already establishing some nice two-man action with VanVleet. Achiuwa’s young, talented, and the centrepiece of the Lowry deal, so he’s not losing minutes. Boucher had a tough hill to climb with lofty expectations stemming from his breakout last season. His slow start (19.4% from three), combined with Scottie Barnes blowing all scouting reports out of the water, spells the beginning of the end for Slimm Duck.

Joseph: I also think Boucher gets shafted here, especially if Watanabe reliably hits open threes when he’s back. Birch is too important as the team’s steadiest and sturdiest center, and the Raptors are invested in Achiuwa’s development. That being said, full health is a pretty rare thing.

Conor: Achiuwa. He’s the most obvious “big” to get the G-League treatment, as to get him from where he is, to where he and the Raptors imagine he could be, is going to need lots of reps in a place where he can make mistakes. Precious getting big minutes somewhere is most important long-term at this point.

Josh: I also think Achiuwa, especially if the Raptors keep starting “small.” But I also think Barnes’s usage and thus stats will take a dip in the short term. They’ll learn to play with each other but it’ll take some time.

3) Which Raptors player stands to benefit the most from having Pascal back in the lineup?

Zakaria: A lot of Raptors will benefit from less attention but I’m going with Khem Birch. With the gravity Siakam can demand at the rim, Birch should have a lot of opportunities for tip ins, and quick floaters and dunks. Siakam has showed improved playmaking last season while Birch has shown to have great hands and be a capable finisher in the paint. Hopefully we see a lot of Birch-Siakam minutes this season.

Jay: Pascal Siakam. He’s faced far too many un-wanted critics over the past year. The best way to shut them up is to prove it on the court. OG’s emergence as a scorer and Scottie’s playmaking should also help Siakam ease into a rhythm much sooner.

J.D.: Fred VanVleet. He’ll have less of those possessions where he’ll have to get rid of a grenade (trying to salvage a bad possession, and taking the blame for the bad shot).

Conor: I’m going to say VanVleet as well. Anything that helps ease the load on the Raps diminutive point guard can’t help but help. I’m inerested to see if we see any “Siakam and bench” units going forward this season; maybe those also help a guy like Flynn who would be a useful complementary piece to P-Skills?

Josh: Yeah, VanVleet was my choice too, for the same “shouldering the load” reasons. In the long run though I’m really hoping Siakam and Barnes develop some chemistry because I can really see those two playing well off each other with their scoring and playmaking skillsets.

Joseph: I’ll follow suit and say Fred VanVleet, not only because it’ll alleviate some of his burden of running the offense, but also because he thrives as an off-ball perimeter threat off of Siakam’s playmaking.

4) The Raptors home and away records are all topsy-turvy. Is there anything, beside “small sample size” that explains this?

Jay: For over a year and a half, the Raps played in front fans of other teams (or a tiny portion for themselves). There’s got to be a comfort level with that feeling. If anything, it probably feels weird to have thousands of fans cheering for the Raps. The records will probably regress towards the mean but I won’t be shocked if they end the season with a better road record.

J.D.: The issue is more on themselves, not about where they play. It’s a period of adjustment — we saw the initial dip to start the season, and the peak (sans Siakam) when the team started to gel. Now, we have a new variable, a big one, and we’ll dip until the players (and the coaching) adjusts to the big change that Siakam’s return brings to the table.

Conor: I think it’s ultimately small sample-size, but I would say that after two years from home, and with the majority of the roster having not played in Scotiabank Arena until this year, that some of that “learned mystique” is probably not there. Raps teams won at home because they were talented, yes, but they also expected to win at home.

Josh: I think Conor is right in that the new players just aren’t used to SBA yet. It probably doesn’t feel like home — but it will, soon enough, especially with Siakam back. And maybe the Tampa season did make the team more road-hardened! Either way I’m sure it will even out over time.

5) In thirty words or less, give me your take on the Miami-Denver fracas.

Conor: Jokic shouldn’t have done it, but I’m not sorry he did.

Josh: The Morris brothers are cheap shot artists, and that was a cheap shot, so Markieff had to expect retaliation — and he deserved it. That said, Jokic crushed him, and it was pretty dangerous blindsiding Morris like that. Penalties probably should have been more harsh.

Jay: Morris got what he deserved but my eyes were focused on one thing: Aaron Gordon avoiding Kyle Lowry (again)

Joseph: I don’t blame Jokic, but completely understand the suspension. Not too sure either one of Jokic or Morris will learn their lesson. Preventative technicals will be handed out very quickly in the next Jokic vs Markieff/Marcus Morris game!

J.D.: O.G.said it best: