As I sit here writing this piece on a crisp autumn morning, we somehow lie only a few days away from the NBA tip-off. Six days, to be exact. With each season, comes that wondrous feeling of - “What if these guys just, ‘get it’ from the beginning?” … “What if this team simply can’t be stopped from the get-go?”
At least, I hope this for the Raptors with each coming season. As we inch forward towards the beginning of the Association, many questions loom for each team and the league as a whole.
For me, and for the Raptors, my biggest question is directed towards the Raptors second-unit. There’s still not even a 100% certainty in how the rotations will play out. As of right now, this is what I believe it will look like;
PG --- Kyle Lowry / Delon Wright
SG --- Demar Derozan / Norman Powell
SF --- CJ Miles / OG Anuouby
PF --- Serge Ibaka / Pascal Siakam
C --- Jonas Valanciunas / Jakob Poeltl and/or Lucas Nogueira
I obviously could be wrong, but this is how I see the lineup playing out. There was talk about Norman Powell starting at SF, but in my opinion, he’s going to be the spark plug for the second unit.
Let’s talk about this second unit.
Backup Point Guard: Delon Wright
When Cojo got flipped to the Pacers, we all knew that the backup job was going to Delon. With less than 60 games under his belt, they’re going to be asking a lot of him.
His shooting and decision making is still in question, but there’s no doubt that Delon could project to be a force at the point guard spot. His 6’6 stature, on top of his length and athleticism, leads us all to believe that there’s a chance he could grow into a fantastic guard.
This will be Wright’s first full (potentially) 82 game season. Barring injuries from Delon, or Lowry, his minutes should be around what Cory had last year. It may take him a little while to get comfortable, but come playoff time, we should have a Delon Wright fresh off of a full season of backup experience.
Backup Shooting Guard: Norman Powell
Stormin’ Norman. Fresh off of his 4-year $42-million dollar extension (fantastic deal by the way), it’s a confirmation that Norm is here to stay, and thank the heavens so.
Powell is 215 pounds of raw, pure, athleticism, and equal amounts of grit and heart. There’s a reason why Raptors fans across the country would worship at a Norman Powell alter. The second rounder was originally drafted by Milwaukee, and traded to us for the corpse of Greivis Vasquez - and I don’t think Raps’ fans could be happier with that move.
From the beginning, it was Powell’s defense that has earned him minutes in Casey’s rotation. His offense has come along since, but his defense has always been his calling card. He’s an adept perimeter defender, who can stretch to the 3, and guard average-sized small forwards.
With Norman’s phenomenal motor and drive, he will make a fantastic spark plug for this second unit. In all honesty, he is the best player on both sides of the floor, amongst his teammates in the second unit (although I’m yet to see OG). It will be exciting to see Norman share a backcourt with Delon for this second troop, and I’m sure he will get a lot of time slotted into the lineup with the starters as well.
P.S … I can’t talk about Norman Powell without showing this ...
… Still, it gives me goosebumps.
Backup Small Forward: OG Anuouby
There’s not much to say about OG that hasn’t already been said. He’s a tantalizing physical prospect.
OG suited up for the preseason game against Detroit last night but is still going to need more work on rehabbing that knee. Dwane Casey however, is still quite high on his 1st-round pick, as are most Raptors fans.
Dwane Casey said in a recent interview, “He’s a top 10 pick. We’re lucky to get him where we got him.”
I’m with Casey. OG projected as a top 10 pick before his knee injury. If all goes well, and the rehab brings him back to 100%, OG could elevate this team’s performance tenfold as the backup small forward.”
Backup Power Forward: Pascal Siakam
Losing Patrick Patterson as a backup hurts. A non-Raptor fan may not see the appeal from his numbers, but he was a great piece for this team. A solid defender at the four, good shooter, smart, and hard-working as all hell.
The plus side to losing PPat? More minutes for sophomore Pascal Siakam. In his rookie season last year, Pascal saw a starting job from day one last year and held it for 34 games. He saw a few sporadic starts after that, but then the Raptors brought in Ibaka and ran Ibaka/PPat at the four for the remaining games, and Pascal’s numbers diminished, and so did his stats.
This is an intriguing year for Pascal. The 27th pick of the 2016 draft plays a lot like a wiry Serge Ibaka. He’s still quite thin, but his timing on blocks and his length give him much promise.
My expectation for Pascal this season is for him to get comfortable expanding his range. If he can begin knocking down that mid-range with consistency, it will open up a lot more for the offense. Hopefully, Pascal’s defense bolsters this second unit, and he helps to anchor this group.
Sidenote, with Ibaka turning 28, we may see Casey restrict some minutes down the stretch of a long season. Look for Pascal to be slotted into the starting Power Forward spot every once and awhile.
Backup Center: Jakob Poeltl and/or Lucas Nogueira
The first few games of the 2017/18 season will most likely serve as a tryout for the backup spot between these two. They’ve both shown individual flashes of great play, but neither one has emerged as a clear frontrunner for the backup spot.
The best-case scenario, in my opinion, is that both guys play so well that Dwane can’t decide between either, and they split minutes each game based on matchups. They both have very different styles of play at the center spot.
Jakob is a strong, tough-nosed rebounding center with a high motor. His athleticism is about average, and his size is on par with a traditional center. Lucas doesn’t have that low center of gravity and raw strength that Jakob possesses, but his 7’6 wingspan is extremely tough to replicate. Bebe also excels at throwing down lobs from Lowry once Kyle forces his way into the paint and draws the defense in.
The battle for the center spot is going to begin from game one, and there’s no saying how long it will last. Perhaps Casey has a clear idea in his head of who he’s going with, but he will definitely give each guy a fighting chance.