Opening Statements: Wizards vs. Raptors — The Final Preseason Game | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs. Raptors — The Final Preseason Game

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Updated: October 21, 2016

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Hi there. Welcome to the World of Washington Wizards.

And the latest from that world: the franchise is ranked 93rd out of 122 professional sports franchises, as assessed by ESPN in the annual “Ultimate Standings” list, down 30 spots from last year. Furthermore, Washington is ranked 22nd amongst NBA teams, which doesn’t seem as terrible considering the markets and franchises ranked below the Wizards—Chicago Bulls (23), L.A. Lakers (26), and New York Knicks (29)—but it is still … not … good.

But you know what: Big Whoop. The Washington franchise has long suffered from a lack of respect, generally and almost always self-inflicted. And while the business operations of the team have been more sound under Ted Leonsis’ “double bottom-line”—although, one could certainly question how sound of a business decision it was to invest in an Arena Football League team (the AFL might not even happen now) instead of a D-League team—Leonsis has yet to really move the needle from the Abe Pollin regime. Who’s to say that that John Wall and Bradley Beal era will be any different than Gilbert Arenas / Big 3 era? We really don’t know other than to fall back into our lounge chairs and be encouraged by the fact that Wall and Beal are homegrown.

The season at hand is out of Leonsis’ hands, really. It’s now predominantly on the shoulders of those two franchise and max money players, and also their new coach, Scott Brooks. Now, this season is not as pivotal as doomsday preppers might have you believe—it won’t be completely blown up via a trade of Wall or Beal if things don’t work out (I think), even if one guy at The Ringer think that’s the best way forward—but heads will roll.

Or, as Zach Lowe puts it in his annual NBA tiers list: “Another lottery appearance could cost Ernie Grunfeld his job. He’s not a U.S. Supreme Court justice.” (A ‘LOL’ to the usage of ‘could’.) Lowe, by the way, puts the Wizards in his “Prime Contenders for No. 8 in the East” bucket with Milwaukee and Chicago. Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Indiana, Detroit, Charlotte, and Atlanta are all more upper echelon teams according to Lowe. So, really, there’s no where to go but up, or down—like, way down. Hey, it’s the World of Wizards we know.

And that’s why we are ready for the preseason to end and the NBA’s real season to begin. The Wizards play their seventh and final preseason game tonight in D.C. versus the Raptors. It doesn’t have to be this way (so many preseason games), but apparently the Theodore Unit needs those extra duckets, even with the current big money T.V. deal.

Joining TAI today to talk about his Raptors is Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) of Raptors Republic. Keep reading below for his answers to my questions, and head on over to The North for my answers to his—where I talk about if there’s even such a thing as a Wizards-Raptors rivalry. Enjoy.

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1) In the NBA’s annual GM survey, Kyle Lowry ranked 4th in “basketball IQ” with 3.4% of the vote after LeBron (65.5%), Chris Paul (24.1%), and Steph Curry (6.9%). How exactly has Lowry displayed his high basketball IQ to followers of the Raps?

@BlakeMurphyODC: It’s hard to put these kinds of things into words, but a memory stands out to me about Lowry: After a game in the Brooklyn playoff series in 2013-14, I asked him about why he made the (correct) decision he did on a break off of a turnover. He was able to walk me through, in detail, what would have resulted from each potential read. It was similar to how everyone raves about LeBron James’ play recall. That’s just one example, of course, but Lowry does a bunch of other things—tricky changes of speed, smart cuts, sneaky steals and charges drawn—that might stand out to observers, and as I understand it, a lot more that goes sight unseen on the practice court as a leader. I’m not going to argue soft-skill rankings given how hard it is to observe from outside, but I’m confident in calling Lowry a high-IQ player.

2) Similar question to yours: If Toronto is going to maintain its title of second best team in the East, which individual player’s progress is going to be most important?

@BlakeMurphyODC: The popular answer is Norman Powell, who really came into his own late in the year, but the answer might be his competition for wing minutes in Terrence Ross. Everyone’s been down the road with Ross before and bought in only to later feel foolish, but there was a great deal of optimism about his play and attitude around camp before he tweaked his knee. Ross might have a ceiling, but if the team opts not to use Jonas Valanciunas with bench-heavy units to increase his touches, any step Ross can make on the offensive end is a step toward easing the load on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

3) Which little-known Raptor is most primed to have a breakout year?

@BlakeMurphyODC: I don’t think there is one, to be honest. Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl have difficult paths to playing time, Delon Wright is hurt, and the team’s probably going to keep a tight nine- or 10-man rotation. The answer then, I guess, is Lucas Nogueira, who isn’t little-known but is more infamous than famous. He’s played well enough in camp to win the backup center job, and he does some really fun things on the court that will get him on highlight reels (along with his award-winning smile).

4) How do the Raps plan to replace the defensive presence of Bismack Biyombo?

@BlakeMurphyODC: That’s something they’re still figuring out, and it’s going to be an experiment all season long. There’s just nobody with that kind of presence at the rim to take up his minutes, and the options to replace him—Valanciunas, Nogueira, Poeltl, and Jared Sullinger—are varying degrees of less equipped than Biyombo. Head coach Dwane Casey has instead stressed the need for better perimeter defense to decrease the reliance on help at the rim, but guys can only do so much. Valanciunas’ 2014-15 rim protection numbers, Nogueira’s length, and Poeltl’s seemingly quick learning curve leave a bit of room for optimism, but the Raptors are almost surely taking a step back on that end this year, because no schematic tweaks are coming (they had already “Thibodeau’d” the defense last summer to help in this area).

5) What was your approval rating for Dwane Casey prior to the 2015-16 season, and what’s your approval rating for the coach heading into this season (and why)?

@BlakeMurphyODC: I’ve always been more in the pro-Casey camp than most of our readers. I don’t think he’s a schematic mastermind or anything like that, but I think people sometimes lose perspective of the macro and overemphasize the micro in these matters. That is, Casey does big picture things like culture, buy-in, and system well, but those go far less noticed than benign end-of-quarter play-calls. I thought he showed some progress in terms of adjustments in the postseason, too, for what that’s worth. I don’t think he’s a top-tier coach, but I think he’s solid enough that it makes sense to keep rolling with him given where the Raptors are and where they can realistically go.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.