In the way is the Toronto Raptors. They aren’t the formidable contenders of the past decade or so, but they are still a challenging team with their defensive frenzy and the lineup challenges they can pose with their length.
To preview this matchup, I catch up with Mat Issa — a writer for the Raptors Republic blog, the host of “The Quest for the Best” podcast, and a guest of GBB Live.
.@GBBLive is back! I am joined in this return episode by @matissa15 and @jackfrank_jjf to talk @the_quest6, Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, and "bold predictions"/early ways to fix what "ails" the Memphis Grizzlies https://t.co/VYCse9AvJG— Joe Mullinax (@JoeMullinax) October 22, 2021
1) Scottie Barnes has been awesome. Has he surpassed any sort of expectations you have?
I wrote about his game and some of the players he reminded me of/could grow into earlier this year. He’s still very young and makes some stupid mistakes because of it (missing defensive rotations, not making the right passing read, etc.), but you can see all the makings of a high-energy, high-IQ contributor on both ends of the floor. As far as expectations go, I’d say some of the pull-up shot-making he’s flashed in the early part of this season is something I didn’t expect to see from him until a couple of years down the road, so I guess you could say he’s ahead of where I thought he’d be at this point in his development.
2) How would you describe the state of the Raptors — is it more retooling or rebuilding?
I’d say they are retooling. When you look at the roster, you see a handful of high-level “ceiling-raisers” who can defend, shoot, provide secondary/tertiary playmaking, and most importantly, fit alongside high usage guys. I like VanVleet a lot (and he’s been great as the primary ball-handler this season), but I do think they need a taller/faster primary creator that can pressure the rim more and use his size to gain access to passing windows that Fred currently can’t with his smaller frame. I think this will allow them to be more disciplined on defense (since they won’t be hunting for transition opportunities) and could morph them from a meddling play-in team to a bonafide contender in the East.
3) Does OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, and the Raptors standing in the East make Siakam more of a trade piece?
I guess, but I don’t see why you would want to move him. He’s already shown he can be the third-best offensive player and second or third-best defensive player on a championship roster. His Swiss-army knife combination of skills gives Nurse a wide range of options for how he wants to use him on the floor, and he’s already shown that he can fit on the floor with Barnes and OG. I think some moves can be made to improve Toronto’s championship outlook in the near future, but trading Siakam isn’t one of them.
4) Who is another young Raptor more fans outside Toronto should be keeping an eye on?
Dalano Banton. Imagine watching a player drive to the rim, then out of nowhere, that player gets his shot swatted by Andrei Kirilenko. Andrei Kirilenko then snatches the ball, proceeds to morph into Magic Johnson, and starts galloping down the court in transition. Magic crosses his team’s three-point line, and on his way to the rim, flicks the LeBron James switch from “off” to “on” and then rifles a skip pass cross-court to an open shooter on the corner. Banton isn’t on the same stratosphere as any of those guys, but at least once a night, he makes you wonder if he can be.
5) General thoughts on the Memphis Grizzlies
Two thoughts: 1) I love you guys because you keep giving former-MSU players homes (go green!). and 2) Ja Morant is very good at that game called basketball. I’m sure you guys hear this plenty, but Morant posting a career-high in rim finishing while also showing meaningful improvement as a shooter makes him a solid candidate for an All-NBA spot this season, and a problem for the league, for the rest of the 2020s (knock on wood). I’m just really happy that the organization was able to shift almost seamlessly from the “Grit and Grind” days to this new era ushered in by a young star as talented and as bought in as Ja Morant.