Good Lord, whoever made the schedule must’ve been done wrong for the Grizzlies to deserve this.
You could say both teams are in a last-ditch effort. The Memphis Grizzlies wanted to ride with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol once again, and it has failed thus far. Meanwhile, the Raptors wanted to delay a rebuild for one more year, trading cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for a top-5 player in Kawhi Leonard. It’s worked for them, as they sit in the top of the conference. Take that nostalgia!
I caught up with Joel Stephens, the Associate Editor at SB Nation’s Raptors HQ to talk about the Raptors and tonight’s game.
1) On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that Kawhi is back in Toronto next season?
I’m going to go the pragmatic (read: boring) route here and say 5/10. I love seeing him building on-court chemistry with the Raptors’ youth, specifically Pascal Siakam (someone he’s really excelled with this season), in addition to Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry. But his existing relationship with Danny Green seems to be most important (Green is also an expiring contract after this year) of all Toronto players.
Green was one of his closest friends while they were both playing with the Spurs, and he has acted as sort of a conduit for Kawhi-information throughout the season. However, regardless of how happy/satisfied Leonard may look on the court or in post-game interviews, his stoicism makes it nearly impossible to get a solid tell on what he plans on doing. In the end, the team’s success will be the biggest factor in his decision.
2) Pascal Siakam may be the league’s most improved player. What’s a good ceiling for him?
Offensively, Siakam gets away with his spins thanks to his above-average footwork and speed. He’s not exactly a premier post scorer, but when you factor in those two qualities, he makes putting the ball in the basket look easy at times. He’s not a consistent three-point shooter however. He’ll have his games where he’s on fire, but right now they only come once every few games.
If he’s able to get that shot to fall nightly, many in Toronto think he’ll be nearly unguardable — and I have to agree. Combined with his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket, he’d be a bonafide triple threat. At 6’9”, he’d immediately become a star in the NBA— but also a highly sought after commodity.
3) Is there really one weakness that the Raptors need to address before the playoffs?
Their offense of late has hit some rough patches, and most of the time it’s due to the bench not shooting par after the starters create great separation to open games. The team immediately goes from fast-paced basketball, to a lineup that allows opposing defenses to get set, and then running the shot clock down to single-digits. It’s a Jekyll/Hyde situation.
Head coach Nick Nurse needs to put together a transitional lineup that sort of weaves the starters together with the bench, at least to maintain some sort of consistent intensity throughout the game. The change from the up-and-down basketball the starters tend to play, to the plodding half-court sets really disrupts the Raptors’ flow and could be an Achilles heel this Spring.
4) Could you talk about how Danny Green went from a throw-in in the Kawhi deal to one of the most valuable role players in the league?
I think this question is more of an indication of how little fanfare the Spurs got (even during their championship years!) from around the league. Over the summer, most Raptors fans thought the same thing — Danny Green/good shooter/good defender/toss in — however it took some number of articles by Toronto media to let fans know that Green was in fact a huge piece of this trade puzzle.
I’m not sure anything changed, other than getting healthy, with Green himself. He’s been the same player for years. The difference is that he is now playing for an organization and in front of a media group that speaks about its players openly. The Spurs have something going on in San Antonio akin to an exposure black-hole. You know nearly nothing of their roster/players!
5) What matchup are you most looking forward to in this game?
Coming into last year’s draft, I was telling friends that Jaren Jackson Jr. should be the number one pick. I knew it wouldn’t happen, but I felt like he had generational potential, and would be one of the best players coming out of that loaded draft. Three months into the season and he’s looking every bit the part.
I’ll pit the darkhorse Rookie of the Year against the possible Most Improved Player, Pascal Siakam. They’re both freakishly long and athletic, and use that in their own respective ways. Jackson is very strong considering how long and thin he looks, and that could be a problem for Siakam at times. At the same time, Jackson still needs to adjust some guarding in the post — even if he does have a combined 8-feet of arms swinging at everything that comes his way. That’ll be a fun one to watch!
Be sure to give Joel a follow on Twitter (@_JoelStephens_) for Raptors content. Thanks, Joel, for joining us!
Follow @sbngrizzlies for updates on tonight’s game and all things Memphis Grizzlies.