For the seventh straight year, the Toronto Raptors will be a playoff team. Hoping to defend the franchise's first title, what are some questions facing them this postseason?
Let's face it – nobody expected the Toronto Raptors to be in the position they presently find themselves in. Losing Kawhi Leonard meant Toronto would have to defend its title sans a superstar which, in today's NBA, is a fool's errand.
But instead of cowering to the opinions of the masses, Nick Nurse's team has made them all eat their words. Injuries have crippled the Raptors all season long, but their depth has shone through it all and put Toronto near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, the once-upon-a-time title-favourite Philadelphia 76ers look like a team lost without a compass, and in dire need of a shooting star to bring them hope. Ben Simmons is a star, sure. But a "shooting" one? Nah.
As prolific as Toronto has looked in the regular season, the playoffs are a different story and bring a whole new set of challenges to teams. The Raptors have benefitted from their depth but will need their best players to be their best players in April, May and June if there's any chance of a repeat of last year's parade.
When the going gets tough in the postseason, the dinos won't have Leonard there to rescue them; instead, these Raptors have Pascal Siakam in that role. Is he ready for the storm that awaits him in a seven-game playoff series? A matchup with the Miami Heat will pose a lot of questions to Spicy P, and it's still unclear if he has all the answers.
So...let's look at three questions facing the Toronto Raptors ahead of the 2019-20 postseason.
Pascal Siakam's inexperience as a No. 1 option in the playoffs
Pascal Siakam, of course, has been nothing short of remarkable in his fourth NBA season, first as a number one option.
Last year, playing alongside Kawhi Leonard, Siakam was sensational as Toronto's secondary option. It was Spicy P, not Kawhi, who shook Draymond Green and made the most important floater in franchise history.
But as good as Siakam was in last year's playoffs, replicating those results is going to be a much tougher exercise in 2020 because of how differently he's being treated by opponents this season as Toronto's primary scorer, rather than its second-in-command.
We've seen Siakam struggle for stretches this season. He's struggled against the Heat, the Brooklyn Nets, and the Orlando Magic - shooting under 40 percent against all three conference foes. Against the terrifying Milwaukee Bucks, Siakam is shooting 39.4 percent across two losses.
I have little doubt that, with time and experience, Siakam will develop into a reliable and explosive playoff performer, and you, the reader, should be confident in Siakam too. He's given us both little reason to believe anything else.
But expect there to be some growing pains along the way when it comes to Siakam excelling in the postseason. His teammates are plenty capable of supporting him as he learns how to be a superstar in a postseason environment, but Siakam will need to remain a quick study if both he and the Raptors hope to find success in the spring and, hopefully, on June 4th. That is the date of Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Finals.
If Toronto winds up making the dance again, you better believe a big part of the reason will have been Pascal Siakam's emergence into a bonafide NBA superstar.
Is Patrick McCaw playable in the playoffs?
Now is the part of the article where we talk about everyone's favourite Raptor – I'm talking about Patrick McCaw, of course.
McCaw has been a lightning rod stuck in the middle of Jurassic Park all season long, with many fans, including myself, unsure what to make of Nick Nurse's infatuation with the unassuming wing.
Across 35 games with Toronto this season, McCaw is averaging more minutes per game than ever before in his career (24.3). The question is, why is he playing so much?
McCaw's true shooting percentage is 51, and his three-point shot only drops 33.8 percent of the time. In both cases, McCaw's numbers fall well below the likes of Matt Thomas and Terence Davis, both of whom, according to most Raptor fans, deserve more minutes than McCaw.
Defensively, McCaw is good.
But is McCaw SO good on defence that Toronto can happily deal with his limitations on offence? I say no.
Like any player, the three-time champion shows flashes of brilliance but on the whole, McCaw's game is very mediocre. At least Matt Thomas, when left open, can shoot the lights out. And Terence Davis? Well, Raptor fans know how special he can be when given the opportunity. In three games where the rookie has played between 30-39 minutes, he's averaged over 19 points and shot 54 percent from beyond the arc. Surely Davis isn't going to see that amount of playing time in the playoffs, but can you honestly say that McCaw, if granted that many minutes, could produce as Davis has?
Because of how important shot-making is in the playoffs, it's going to be hard to trust McCaw for long stretches. As a result, don't expect to see much of him once the postseason begins.
Where does Norman Powell fit in Toronto's playoff rotation?
Since returning from injury and, frankly, for most of the 2019-20 season, Norman Powell has been a monster performer for the Toronto Raptors. Amidst all the trade talk concerning his likeness, the UCLA product has continued blossoming before our very eyes and appears ready to, once again, peak during the playoffs.
Because of a shoulder injury to Fred VanVleet, Powell has spent the last little while starting for Toronto. And he's been exceptional since the lineup change.
So...if he keeps playing at this level, will Nick Nurse be forced to find a way to insert Powell into the Raptors' starting five once the playoffs begin? I say "pump the brakes" because nothing is saying Powell can't be this productive in a reserve role. Concurrently, VanVleet has done nothing to lose his spot in Toronto's starting five.
The key to Powell's recent rise has nothing to do with being in his team's starting lineup, so when VanVleet eventually returns to game action, Nurse should not think twice about moving Powell back to the bench and having him captain Toronto's second unit. Even as a reserve, Powell should expect to see 25-35 minutes in the playoffs.
All signs point to Powell having a new gear to his game, and there's a case to be made that having him line up against opposing teams' bench players will have even better results than what we've seen in recent outings.Related Story:Does Chris Boucher or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson deserve more minutes?
And to anyone who remains adamant that Powell starts in the playoffs, I'll say this – starting in the postseason means nothing...the real question is: are you good enough to finish games?
In Norm's case, the answer is, "yes."