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Questions in the Mentions – On arm-wrestling, Poeltl’s shot & the 2019-20 Raptors

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

For over a year now, I’ve done a sorta-weekly mailbag podcast answering questions from listeners. While I’ve enjoyed those episodes — and the extremely easy content they provide — it never quite feels like the questions that come in are done proper justice in audio form. Rarely do I have the time to formulate articulate and thoughtful answers, and it’s also harder to add humour while talking to myself in front of a mic.

Going forward the Locked on Raptors mailbag will be in written form. I’ll try to make it a weekly thing, but don’t hold me to that because I sure like to procrastinate and/or just not do work.

If ever you come up with a question you’d like answered, shoot it to me on twitter (@WoodleySean). I’ll be sure to save and answer it. If you have a question that requires more than 280 characters to ask, please do not ask it.

With that out of the way, enjoy the first edition of Questions in the Mentions. (Better name suggestions welcome.)

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Next to “can they succeed in the playoffs?” this is the most important question facing the Raptors this year. Thank you for shedding light on it.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume we’re talking about a March Madness-style, neutral-site, single knockout tournament as opposed to a Champions League-like round robin followed by a knockout stage. We’ll seed by weight as recorded on Basketball Reference. Thankfully, a nice and clean 16 players are currently on the Raptors’ roster after factoring in the two-way guys. Here, then, would be the bracket.

Let’s quickly fire through the first round. Assume that the higher seed gets to choose which hand is used for the match. Poor Delon doesn’t stand a chance against Jonas with that bum shoulder. Kyle’s booty is the kind of anchor that any arm wrestler dreams of having — it has some sneaky 2011 Kemba Walker potential in this tournament. He cruises against a probably indifferent Ibaka; arm wrestling showdowns aren’t exactly an “avec classe” kind of event.

Anunoby’s strength is beyond his years. Miller is simply outgunned. DeMar vs. Bruno is a lot less close than your average 8-9 match-up; Bruno’s endless right arm might snap in half were he to battle one of the higher, more powerful seeds. Poeltl-Brown would be one of those 2-15 duels that scares the shit out of the higher seed for 35 minutes before the more talented side eventually wins out.

We get our second upset with the stocky VanVleet taking down Bebe — not because VanVleet is particularly fearsome wielding that right arm, but because Nogueira would almost certainly get DQ’d for an illegal maneuver within two minutes. Siakam’s vicious putback dunk against the Wizards on Sunday is enough to make me a believer in his quick-strike ability in the arm-wrestling ring. And in a surprise move, the left-handed Miles opts to fight Powell with his off hand because everyone knows Powell’s never finished anything with his right.

In round two, Lowry’s ample posterior provides the centre-of-gravity he needs to upend the top-seeded Valanciunas. In the battle of power and finesse, OG takes down DeMar. On the opposite side, Poeltl’s Eastern European genes earn him to a close win over Fred. And in the 6-7 match-up, Miles combines the paternal strength he’s accrued as a Bench Dad and a soon-to-be actual father to take down the spry Siakam.

Kyle vs. OG almost feels like the real championship match. Seasoned, savvy and large-cheeked against youthful, athletic and explosive. Kyle takes advantage of an early and inexperience-revealing takedown attempt by OG and ends it with swift a counter-strike — the arm-wrestling equivalent of a Lowry pull-up three in transition. Miles, seemingly over-matched by Poeltl in a right-handed struggle, once again deploys the dad-defense that led him past Siakam to set up a final between the two oldest and wisest Raptors.

Sitting as the higher seed for the first time since vanquishing Powell in round one, Miles finally presses his most pronounced advantage and pulls Lowry into a lefty showdown for all the … whatever they’re playing for in this stupid tournament. Lowry’s glutes, after a spirited run through the tournament, give out like they did in the 2014-15 playoffs.

CJ Miles is your Raptors arm wrestling king. This wasn’t a waste of time at all, no way.

It would run counter to game ops’ “not cool ever” motif, but this should absolutely be a thing. Similar to the “Straight Outta Compton” drop they sometimes use when DeMar DeRozan scores a bucket, the hook from Ice T’s masterpiece would be a perfect way to liven things up when OG scores, without being too heavy-handed.

Yes. Moving on.

I think once factoring in that he wasn’t even supposed to play until December or later, it has to be OG Anunoby. Rookies aren’t supposed to be good. They’re supposed to stink at defense and hurt their teams’ overall efficiency when they’re on the court.

OG has successfully guarded James Harden, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and the entire Portland Trail Blazers roster, while putting up the second-best on-court NET Rating on the team behind Fred VanVleet. Even after a rough shooting weekend, Anunoby’s drained 37 percent of his threes after being regarded as a bricklayer coming out of college. He’ll probably regress more, but the stroke is far smoother than it was sold as.

Play making God DeMar DeRozan and fastest man alive Pascal Siakam also have good cases, but tie goes to the guy who’s not even fully recovered from ACL surgery.

PS – Read Arden Zwelling on OG. It’s much better than anything you’ll read here, arm wrestling tournament section notwithstanding.

 

No one! Norman Powell would have been the guy, I suppose, but he’s locked up now with that new extension he signed before the season. I’m not sure Lucas Nogueira, the only other pending free agent on the team, will get the minutes to put up a Biyombo-esque campaign. Had Delon Wright not gotten hurt, perhaps he would have played himself into a no-brainer extension before the start of next season. Probably not now, but more on that later.

To the first part of your question — post play is so 2005. Poeltl can still be an uber-effective big man without an array back-to-the-basket moves. His offensive rebounding, pick-and-roll and team defense, and improving instincts as a role man are exactly the skills Dwane Casey would like to see from his centres. Tristan Thompson has done alright for himself as a player with a similar profile.

As for part two — I almost don’t want Poeltl to ever learn how to shoot. In a league that’s gone stretch crazy, I adore anyone who can thrive while resisting the urge to conform. Poeltl’s shot charts are pristine, even beautiful.

Why would anyone want to tarnish such a flawless, OCD-friendly Basketball Reference page?

Poeltl’s first three-point attempt will mean the death of one of the few perfect things remaining in this deeply shattered world. For the sake of humanity, I hope he refrains.

For dinner tonight I ate both with Madras curry and I would not want one without the other. Ultimately chicken is more versatile and has fewer stand-ins available than rice does, so if I’m choosing one it’s chicken. For the record I think this is a weird either/or question.

And the award for most loaded question goes to…

Keep in mind that this prediction will probably be wrong. Injuries happen. Performance levels rise and fall. Nuclear wars wipe out human existence. And on and on.

Masai Ujiri’s off-season made it so that the Raptors’ roster can remain mostly static for the next few seasons if he wants it to. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka are the core pieces last summer’s moves revolved around. The first two will almost surely still be Raptors in two years time. Ibaka most likely will be too, hopefully as a fully-transitioned centre by then.

Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby will still be on their rookie deals. Barring a massive trade in which one, both or all of them are moved for a superstar, they’ll be around. And goddamnit will those guys ever be intriguing two seasons from now. Norman Powell will be deep in the heart of his newly signed extension. Penciling him in to be on the 2019-20 team comes with some risk considering he’ll likely have the most movable deal on the cap sheet. When the Raptors inevitably trade back for Terrence Ross, it would make sense for Powell to go the other away.

Delon Wright’s next contract is going to be fascinating. With so little in terms of meaningful NBA minutes to judge him on (a problem that could be exacerbated by the injury he’s dealing with now), it’s hard to imagine the Raptors extending him this summer with their payroll so stuffed. Maybe they sign him to a new contract in the summer of 2019 after his rookie deal runs out, and line him up to be the new starter once Lowry’s deal expires in the summer of 2020. Or maybe his injury history scares them away. It’s damned hard to predict. Because of the straight jacket that is the NBA’s CBA, Wright will still probably be a Raptor two seasons from now, but I wouldn’t put money on it. Maybe the Raptors draft a replacement back up point guard in the first round in 2019.

Both CJ Miles and Jonas Valanciunas have player options for that season. Who the hell knows what the state of the salary cap will be by then. JV’s deal went from reasonable-to-bleh over the course of one calendar year — it could look decent. or even worse by 2019. My guess is that the Raptors keep looking for ways to offload Jonas without attaching a major asset. Someone will bite … at some point … uhh … probably … right? Miles will be 32 in 2019-2020. He could be underpaid by then. He could be earning market value. If his shot goes away, maybe he’ll be overpaid! This is all to say: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I’d say it’s 50/50 whether or not he’ll be defending his team arm wrestling title two years from now.

My guess as to what the lineup looks like in two years?

PG – Lowry / Wright / Jaylen Hands (idk, he’s a point guard projected to go in the twenties in the 2019 draft)

SG – DeRozan / Terrence Ross

SF – Anunoby / Miles / A 7-foot-1 guy from Vanuatu who has never played basketball but has a 9-foot wingpsan

PF – Siakam / The first-round pick Masai got from the Knicks for Jonas / Lance Thomas (he was also in the trade)

C – Ibaka / Poeltl / Bruno (yeah, he’s a centre now on a 5-year/$5 million deal)

If I have a dream scenario, it probably involves Jonas, two young dudes and a future first rounder getting shipped to Memphis in a Marc Gasol trade. But that is definitely not happening and no this is absolutely me not reverse-jinxing it.

 

Thanks to all who sent in questions! Let’s do it again sometime, shall we?

Please be sure to subscribe to, rate and review the podcast on iTunes!

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Podcast host and writer for Locked on Raptors, Raptors HQ and Hoop Talks Live. Terrence Ross believer. On Twitter @WoodleySean. It's 10 grown men playing with a ball -- let's have some fun with it.

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