1.) We're hearing a lot about experience vs. youth in this series. Are you concerned at all about the lack of playoff experience on the Raptors roster or do you think that it's being overblown?
I think the experience piece is overblown. Do I think it's a complete non-factor, no, but in my mind, this series is going to be decided based on a few match-ups and which team can execute their style of play better. So experience does factor into these pieces a bit, but I don't think Toronto should forfeit due to lack of post-season experience.
2.) The Raptors really took off after the Rudy Gay trade. Can you explain to Nets fans why that was?
As well liked as Rudy was in the locker room, he just didn't fit on the court. Simply put, Gay never meshed well with the bulk of the starting group's skillsets, especially on offense, rendering some redundant, and relegating others to much lesser roles than were likely deserved. The result was a fairly inefficient offense -not to mention one that was EXTREMELY painful to watch- often having possessions deteriorate into Rudy Gay going one-on-five up against an expiring shot clock.
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The removal of Gay had a two pronged effect in that it not only got the ball moving again on offense, but also allowed players to fit more into their natural roles at both ends of the court. The team began creating easier and more efficient scoring opportunities, and I think as a result, overall offensive confidence was given a big shot in the arm, something you've seen in the individual games of players like Terrence Ross (Mr. 51 points) and DeMar DeRozan (All-Star!)
3.) It felt like there was a time when the Raptors were going to "blow it up" and start collecting assets -- around the time Rudy Gay was traded and the Kyle Lowry rumors started getting heavy -- So, I guess my question is, how shocked are you that we're sitting here heading into the playoffs and the Raptors hold the Atlantic Division title and are the 3rd see in the East?
I am definitely surprised. While I knew from the jump that we'd see a better Raptors team post-Rudy Gay, I didn't think the team would be THIS good. I loathed Gay's acquisition to begin with (aaaah the Colangelo era) and was praying that Masai Ujiri found a taker for his services. However I didn't expect the club to gel the way it did, and for the Sacramento acquisitions to have such an impact. Many of the former Kings essentially found new life in Toronto and this gave the Raptors an extra boost that I don't think any of us expected.
On top of this, I didn't expect clubs like the Bulls and Nets to struggle earlier in the season (the Knicks, yes - that's what you get for trading for Andrea Bargnani) so part of my surprise is due to the fact that other teams DIDN'T fare as well thus opening the door for Toronto.
4.) For Nets fans who aren't all that familiar with him, can you give us a mini scouting report on Jonas Valanciunas?
Love to, as I view him as the X Factor for Toronto in this series. Valanciunas is a fairly mobile big man who has a decent offensive repertoire, and who can be a difference maker at the defensive end. He's solid rebounder, isn't afraid to fight for loose balls in traffic, and is an excellent foul shooter. He's fairly effective at putting the ball on the floor and driving to the hoop, but has some work to do on his face-up game, especially from beyond about 8 feet. He struggles at times against bigger players defensively, often gets lost on pick-and-roll coverages, but has improved in these regards with each passing season.
To me he's the X factor as if he's got it going offensively, it creates a major mismatch for the Nets. KG isn't the player defensively anymore and while I love Plumlee (I'm a Duke fan), Valanciunas has the size and strength to get position down low and force double-teams. Towards the end of the season he was on a real tear, and if he starts racking up the points down low, it may force Jason Kidd out of his small ball lineups.
BUT, he needs to get touches and get in rhythm early to make this happen. Unfortunately his teammates at times forget about him on the court, and Dwane Casey tends to keep him on a fairly short leash, opting to go with the likes of Tyler Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes at the first sign of trouble.
5.) Finally, we have to get a prediction from you. How do you see this series playing out?
My gut says that the Raptors take this in six but I'll be honest, I'm worried about the club's defense. While Toronto won the bulk of its games down the stretch, it was mostly due to timely offense, and not lock-down D. The Nets on the season weren't a top 10 team in offensive efficiency but they can score and if the Dinos don't guard the three-point line or if they start turning it over (Nets as you know are one of the best teams in the league at forcing TO's and converting off them), this series could be over very quickly.
If the D is back though, I just don't see the Nets being able to play to some of their strengths against the Raptors like they could have versus say a Washington or even Chicago. The Raptors are one of the best teams in the league at taking care of the ball and guarding the three-point line, and are voracious rebounders, especially on the offensive end, an area Brooklyn was not exactly stellar in, all season.
So Raps in six but more importantly, let's get this series started!!