Mike Gan­ter’s TOP 5

BURN­ING QUES­TIONS HEAD­ING INTO THE TORONTO RAP­TORS SEA­SON

Winnipeg Sun - - SPORTS - mgan­ter@post­media.com @Mike_­gan­ter

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.

CP

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.

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