Toronto Raptors

Mailbag: Answering your questions about Kawhi Leonard, RJ Barrett and the Denver Nuggets

Josh Eberley answers your questions in this week's Canada Post-Up
Josh Eberley answers your questions in this week's Canada Post-Up (NBA.com illustration)

The NBA season is underway and with it trends and surprises abound. Which trends will last and which will fade? What hot start will dissipate and which slow-to-go star will pick it back-up?

Every month I'll attempt to answer any and every question submitted for our mailbag.

Have a question you want answered for the next edition, send them any time via Twitter @JoshEberley!

Julian McKenzie asks: The Denver Nuggets are off to a great start to the season. Are they for real? Where do you see them finishing in the standings?

Absolutely.

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Sure Not Now

People remember the Nuggets missed the playoffs last year and forget that they were three games back of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Western Conference's three seed. This team was poised to pop, and with a healthy Paul Millsap back in the lineup, they've started incredibly well.

The Nuggets are 7-1 with the league's third-best net rating (plus-8.9). Their success offensively was expected, but it's the defense that will catapult them into contention.

Nikola Jokic looks like a legitimate MVP candidate, Gary Harris is one of the league's most underrated players and Canada's own Jamal Murray has taken big strides forward in his game. If I was a betting man, I'd say the Nuggets finish third in the West this season.

Joseph Nardone asks: Would the Raptors fanbase explode from joy, as a collective, if they somehow landed RJ Barrett in the NBA Draft?

Without a doubt.

Canada has never had a home-grown star playing for the Raptors. It was a HUGE deal when Cory Joseph left the San Antonio Spurs to come home and this would be an entirely new bar.

But don't get your hopes up, Raptors fans, because this team is far too good to draft anywhere near Barrett's projected slot.

It's probable - if not likely - that Barrett is the No. 1 overall pick in 2019. The first-round pick the Raptors dealt in the Kawhi Leonard trade is top-20 protected, so while it's not impossible, the Raptors would have to suddenly tank or make a massive blockbuster for a top lottery pick prior to the deadline.

Justin Hodges asks: RJ Barrett is one of the most polarizing wing prospects we've seen in a long time. How long before he's the face of Canadian hoops?

Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson have both showed out for the red and white, as have Nik Stauskas and Kelly Olynyk. I've got nothing but respect for all the aforementioned players, but it might already be Barrett.

Andrew Wiggins has had multiple chances to step into the role and has rebuked it at every turn. Murray is a decent candidate and is a rising star in the league but what Barrett accomplished at the U19 Championship was prophetic. In a win against Team USA and Coach John Calipari, Barrett had his coming out party on a world stage. His final performance of 38 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists in 33 minutes was ridiculous.

It would be shocking if Barrett wasn't the face of the national program for decades to come.

Jason Rubin asks: Which NBA player do you want to see do a TED Talk?

It's impossible not to say Kawhi Leonard here.

Getting Leonard on stage to lay it all out for us would be amazing. What is he passionate about? What would his TED Talk be about? How many stars of his caliber, especially in this modern and transparent era, have less documented about their personal lives and opinions? He's the total reversal of the modern NBA star.

Jackson Frank asks: Most impressive rookie for you so far?

I'm going to have to say Luka Doncic. Through five games he's averaging 19.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.4 APG and has a level of polish to his game that is totally foreign to the average rookie's skillset.

The only five rookies in the 3-point era to average equal or better numbers in points, rebounds and assists are Blake Griffin, Grant Hill, Mitch Richmond, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. Not a bad start for the Wonder Boy.

Jordan Moore asks: If Raptors get to the NBA Finals and lose, does Kawhi stay?

I can't answer this with any certainty, but my best guess would be yes.

The Raptors can offer the most money and if they make it that far, it'll be because the talent and team chemistry are truly special. I'd imagine it's incredibly hard to walk away from a team in that situation and could see Leonard coming back on a two-year deal with a player option.

It would give him the chance to finish what he started in Toronto while maintaining future flexibility.

Arslan Khalid asks: Is Andre Roberson really that critical for OKC's defense?

It's hard to undersell the impact at the moment, especially since the team started 0-5 without him this season. Last season when Roberson was on the floor, the Thunder had a defensive rating of 96.6. When we wasn't present, the team defensive rating soared to 108.4.

In short, he can't get back fast enough.

Don't forget, there was legitimate Defensive Player of the Year talk for Roberson prior to him getting hurt.

Pete Bell asks: Why are all these points be scored? Has offense skills surpassed defense officially now?

Fair question, Pete.

The league has picked it up offensively, and I mean that literally. Teams are playing at a torrent and next level pace. A great stat I saw last week, credit to NBC's Tom Haberstroh: The "7 Seconds or Less" Suns led by Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni in the early 2000s that revolutionized the game would be dead last in pace today!

I genuinely believe the league talent is at an all-time high, but with teams playing at sonic speeds, there's no end in sight to the scoring boom.

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