Raptors mailbag: Optimal Lowry minutes, ‘Skinny Marc’s’ impact and more

We look back at all the ups and downs from the Toronto Raptors 2019-20 season before the NBA pause, and look ahead to a healthy return in Orlando, and a chance to repeat as world champs!

With the Toronto Raptors‘ restarting their season Saturday night, I thought it would be a great time to check in on the mailbag and answer some of your questions.

Let’s roll.

Livestream the Raptors' quest to defend their NBA title with select NBA playoff games on Sportsnet NOW.

@11bkjimena: Do you think the @Raptors have an excellent chance to win it all again this year?

Short answer, Kevin: I do.

Longer answer. In 2018-19 I felt that the Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers all had a chance to be the best in the East. I didn’t think there was a ton of separation from those four teams, on paper and over the course of the regular season that feeling proved to be true.

Then, heading into last year’s post-season, I had the same feeling. The conference was still up for grabs. In spite of the season Milwaukee had, I wasn’t putting them any further ahead than Toronto, Boston, or Philly.

As we know, the Raptors went on to take the East and the championship.

My feelings are exactly as they were last year. Throw the Bucks, Raptors and Celtics into a hat (I’m not as high on the Sixers) and see who comes out. They’re all very good, but if anybody is underselling or not giving Toronto enough credit, they’re flat-out wrong.

The Raptors, in spite of a ton of injuries (10-plus games missed for Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Norm Powell, Marc Gasol and others) and the loss of their best player (Kawhi Leonard) from last season, still went out and compiled the second-best record in the East and the third-best record in the NBA. Plus their defence is ranked No. 2 in the Association.

The Raptors are for real. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win the East again, and if they get to the Finals then all bets are off and It’s anyone’s for the taking.

@ankleskater: Who lost more weight: Gasol or Nikola Jokic?

Jokic, I think. But nobody really knows for sure.

The reports out of Denver – some stemming from direct comments from Jokic – have the big man weighing 20-25 pounds less than when the season began. He has said that he dropped most of that weight during the season – before the shutdown – and, perhaps, an additional 3-5 pounds were shed during the shutdown. It certainly seems like a lot more, though.

The info on Gasol is harder to come by. He didn’t really care to talk about it with the media when he was pressed on the issue a few times. The veteran centre just brushed off the queries and didn’t seem to want to make a big deal out of his transformation. However, he certainly looks svelte. And forget the weight, he looks like he has dropped years.

The bigger or better question may be which player will benefit most from the lost weight? To that question I’d probably say Gasol. I don’t think suddenly going to become a poor defender or get pushed around because he’s 10 or 15 pounds lighter. And the shed weight could make him a little spryer on the offensive end.

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@nhlpuckman: What do you think Nick Nurse is aiming for when it comes to optimal minutes per game for Lowry?

I’m not sure that there’s a specific per-game total for Lowry. He averaged 37.5 during last year’s post-season and 36.6 in 54 games before the pandemic shut things down. Thus, I think it’s safe to assume that the all-star guard would clock in somewhere in the 35-plus minutes range.

He’s the Raptors leader, their heart and their soul, and playing Lowry with the “jumbo” lineup or in smaller units with VanVleet in the backcourt as well is a bonus. He’s versatile and flexible and he’s got the edge and the willpower you want on the floor.

Nurse will play his best players as much as he needs to. I think his bench will get shorter in the playoffs. So a lot of guys will have to check their egos and have to simply stay ready.

This is more of a comment than a question, but it came from an @Sportsnet post that asked basketball fans: “What has been the best moment of the NBA season?”

The options were the 2020 dunk contest, Vince Carter’s last basket, LeBron James’ speech about Kobe Bryant, the Raptors’ banner raising and ring ceremony, Zion Williamson’s debut, or “other.”

One of the responses that came in, that I was cc’d on, was from @Vee_Grant, saying, “Raptors banner ceremony and my boo @Klow7 getting that ring!”

And here’s my response:

All of those moments were great, but two stand out.

I can’t deny how special it was to sit courtside and watch the Raptors – a team I’ve covered and/or called games for over 20 years – receive their championship rings and raise their championship banner to the rafters. It was incredible.

However, when life – and, sadly, death – intersect with basketball, it’s impossible to ignore the impact of LeBron James’ speech on Jan. 31.

Just days after Bryant’s death, James picked up a microphone prior to the Lakers tip-off against the Portland Trail Blazers and delivered an impassioned message to 20,000-plus. He was the one everyone was waiting to hear from and he delivered.

“I look at this as a celebration tonight,” James said. “This is a celebration of the 20 years of the blood, the sweat, the tears, the broken-down body … the determination to be as great as he could be. Tonight we celebrate the kid that came here at 18 years of age…”

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

@Kobe24Ottawa: Will the Raptors give Danny Green his championship ring on Saturday night?

No. My understanding is that the Raptors were prepared to present Green and Phil Handy (Lakers assistant coach who had the same role in Toronto last season) with their rings prior to Saturday’s tip-off. However, a number of factors put that plan on the backburner – not the least of which were things like timing (before tip-off) and social distancing measures.

But more than anything else was the fact that Green prefers to have the ring presented to him in Toronto, in front of the Raptors’ fans.

Green politely declined the option of getting the ring in Orlando’s bubble and he’ll wait until the Lakers’ next trip north of the border (whenever that may be).

He was supposed to receive his ring on March 24, when Los Angeles was scheduled to play at Scotiabank Arena.

@DannyPereira07: Will the Raptors win the Final in four or five games?

If they’re there (which I have every reason to believe they could be), I don’t think it’ll be an easy series. I fully expect the Lakers or Clippers to come out of the West. If Toronto were to face either of those two teams, I’d anticipate a six or seven-game series.

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