Toronto Raptors mailbag: Bench questions, potential trades, and Pascal Siakam’s most improved case

Toronto Raptors - Serge Ibaka (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Serge Ibaka (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

A few weeks into the season, we’ve learned a lot about the Toronto Raptors. But there are many areas still unanswered. We took to Twitter and Facebook to answer your biggest questions in this week’s mailbag.

After seven games, it’s hard to be anything but happy with the Toronto Raptors performance so far. They’re 5-2, have the fifth-best net rating in the NBA, and their only two losses have come on the road, to what appear to be top-tier opponents. By any reasonable measure, the start of the season has been a success.

But there are still many questions surrounding this team. Many involving the bench, some potential roster changes, and others. We took to Twitter and Facebook to find the best questions facing the Toronto Raptors so far this season.

Devi (@dbhoops_) asks: Does Nurse consider moving Fred back to the bench and starting someone else (I hate to say it, Norm) at the 2?

He might consider it, but I doubt he pulls the trigger — at least while the Raptors are winning.

If you’re looking at candidates to replace Fred VanVleet in the starting lineup, the choices are thin. As you mention, Norman Powell is the only real candidate, and he’s been incredibly shaky to start the season. His shooting struggles are unlikely to continue all year, but Powell’s been remarkably inconsistent throughout his career. Nothing he’s done this season has dispelled that notion.

One of the under-discussed aspects of the Raptors lineup is that whoever that starts at shooting guard needs to be able to defend point guards. Kyle Lowry, while a great team defender, has been placed on the slower, older backcourt partner all season. I don’t think that’s an accident; he’s 33-years-old. Nurse doesn’t want him guarding De’Aaron Fox all game.

As for other “potential starters,” don’t expect that to happen anytime soon — Matt Thomas is better off defending opposing bench players, the game is still too fast for Terence Davis to be in a starting role, and Patrick McCaw‘s lack of offensive game will suck the life out of the first unit.

Norman Powell is the only reasonable alternative. Choosing him over Fred VanVleet is a lateral move at best.

NBA Player Scout (@NBAPlayerScout) asks: Is Pascal Siakam allowed to win Most Improved again?

Yes, he is technically allowed. However, the bigger question is, will voters choose someone who just won the award last season? My early hunch is they won’t.

Voter fatigue is a real thing, and people don’t like awarding a player they just picked last year. LeBron James has won four MVPs which, at first glance, feels like a lot. But do you really think he’s only been the best player in basketball for four seasons? Of course not. Picking LeBron James every season is boring.

Most Improved is rarely handed to established stars and has never been given to the same player twice. Siakam might have a case on merit. He won’t on practicality.

Deonté (@deonteisgod) asks: Do you see our bench gelling together by all-star break?

Unfortunately, not really. They’ll gel some, and it should be better than it is right now. However, this Raptors second unit has the potential to be a problem all season long. Serge Ibaka is a great backup, Powell won’t continue to struggle like this, but other than those two players, they don’t have a consistent cog they can count on.

They have no backup forwards, they’re heavily reliant on two rookies in their backcourt (two rookies I like, but still rookies), and Nurse clearly doesn’t trust anyone who was brought on the team this offseason. The Toronto Raptors bench can get better. I still expect it to be an area of concern all season.

Terra K (Facebook) asks: Do you expect the Raptors to make a trade anytime soon?

Anytime soon? No. Will they make a deal before the All-Star break? It’s certainly possible.

The Raptors desperately need a bench piece who can play small or power forward reliably. Chris Boucher doesn’t look ready; Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson appear to be permanently placed in Nick Nurse’s doghouse. For now, it’s Powell playing the backup 3 and weird dual-big lineups that don’t seem to work.

Next. Five rules to help you cheer for Terence Davis. dark

If the Toronto Raptors target anyone, it will likely be a younger player on a cheaper deal with the potential to grow with this core unit. I don’t believe they’ll make a purely “win now” move, but I do think they’ll make a move that helps them now and over the course of the next few years.