Mike Ganter’s TOP 5
BURNING QUESTIONS HEADING INTO THE TORONTO RAPTORS SEASON
1. Which Kawhi Leonard are the Raptors getting and how long will they have him?
Leonard is not the closed book we in the Raptors media thought we were getting when Masai Ujiri dealt Demar Derozan, a first-round pick and Jakob Poeltl to San Antonio in exchange for Leonard and Danny Green. Leonard will never be a chatty guy. It’s not his nature, but through training camp and the pre-season he changed a few minds.
First it was Green, who knows Leonard as well as anyone on the roster, saying he was more communicative and engaged with his teammates than he has been in the past. Similar sentiments came from CJ Miles.
Leonard by all accounts has been a model teammate since he arrived. He’s clearly still getting his feet under him after not having played a meaningful game or even a five-on-five game since last January before stepping on the floor at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. He looks to be every bit the defender and competitor he was in his Spurs days.
So on that front all is good.
The question of how long the Raptors will have him remains one that almost definitely won’t be answered any time soon.
Leonard is saying and doing all the right things but there has been no ‘real’ indication this is more than just a one-year stopover for him. In fairness, beyond signing an extension what real indications could he give? 2. How will Leonard and Kyle Lowry co-exist?
We only have a handful of games and anecdotal evidence to go on here but so far it’s been all good.
Even in the first game in Vancouver against Portland these two showed a willingness to rely on the other with the ball moving freely from one and back to the other. Nurse had them together all through training camp where everyone else played up and down the lineup with each other, these two remained together.
Lowry didn’t exactly have a stellar pre-season himself. He shot the ball at just a 30% clip and was just 23% from distance but there were factors. He did not play beyond the first half until the game in Montreal and even then it wasn’t for long as he earned his way out with a few choice words for the refs who gladly tossed him out of the game.
Numbers mean next to nothing for veterans in the preseason. Much more meaningful from a team perspective was how Lowry meshed with Leonard. They are the two that will make this team go and the early indications not unexpectedly are two high IQ basketball players make for a very good fit. 3. Who is the Raptors’ starting centre?
The likely answer going into camp was Jonas Valanciunas but at this point it looks more likely that Serge Ibaka will move to centre allowing the Raptors to start a small defensive all-star lineup of Lowry, Green, Anunoby, Leonard and Ibaka.
If Nurse elects to go with both Kawhi Leonard and OG Anunoby as we suspect, then there’s a debate to made that Ibaka gives you a better overall defensive presence at the centre spot than Valanciunas would with that starting group. He’s more fluid in terms of popping out with the stretch fives and recovering to the rim if need be. Having said that we strongly believe Nurse wants Valanciunas and his playmaking, his shooting, and his stoutness defensively in there as much as possible. The likely scenario is this will be one of the more changeable parts of the starting lineup. 4. How much different will this team play under Nick Nurse than it did under Dwane Casey?
How much different will this team play under Nick Nurse than it did under Dwane Casey?
This one is more of a wait and see question but, again, the early indications are the changes outside of the new faces on the court will be subtle to begin with.
Nurse has teased the media throughout the pre-season saying he’s willing to try anything and with the versatility his lineup gives him, the options are limitless.
Offensively this team won’t be too much different than the one we saw a year ago with the exception of the bully ball Leonard can play.
That was Nurse’s offence after all a year ago and it was effective. Leonard should only make it more effective. Defensively though this team should be much better based solely on the personnel changes. 5. What does the future look like for the bench mob?
There is no question the bench mob was a rather large part of the Raptors’ success a year ago. Turning one’s back on something that worked so well would appear to be a step back. But this team is not going to operate like last year when Casey essentially had two five-man starting units and then staggered the departure of his two best players from the floor to ensure one of Lowry or Derozan was out there at all times. What it meant was the bench mob averaged between 1330 minutes and 1670 minutes of playing time per individual. It would not be a surprise to see each member do that again.
The guess here is to expect the combinations to vary a lot more than they did a year ago.
Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard looks fully healthy and ready to go for the start of the season. Right, it looks like Serge Ibaka will start at centre for the team.