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Big picture questions from the Magic’s playoff series with the Raptors

We check in with Raptors HQ one final time for some big picture questions about the Magic’s future

Toronto Raptors v Orlando Magic - Game Three Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Before each game of the Magic/Raptors series, we got the perspective of someone from the North. Now that the series is over, we figured we’d chat one final time, looking at the bigger picture and the immediate future for both teams.

Dylan Litman of Raptors HQ, who joined us prior to Game 1 and Game 2 and Game 3 and Game 4 and Game 5, was once again nice enough to answer some questions for us one final time. We also answered some questions for him in his Raptors/Magic Retrospective story.

The Magic were simply overpowered in this match-up. But they are a young team that made an unexpected run to the playoffs. From an outsider perspective, why do you think Magic fans should be encouraged about this team?

Orlando Magic v Toronto Raptors - Game One Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Magic are a young team with an abundance of talented players yet to reach their potential. Despite Pascal Siakam’s dominant performance, I’m confident Jonathan Isaac has a bright future in the league. His length, athleticism and smooth shooting form all point to a star in the making. After all, Isaac is only 21 and has ample time to continue improving his defensive instincts as he gains more experience in the NBA.

Aaron Gordon showed flashes of brilliance near the end of the series, tantalizing fans and teammates alike. If he learns to stay focused defensively while simultaneously punishing weaker opponents on the other end of the floor, he may enter the upper-echelon of NBA stars.

Play NBA GM for a moment: Free-agent-to-be Nikola Vucevic had an All-Star season but was totally shutdown in the postseason by Marc Gasol and the Raptors. Would his performance in this series prevent you from signing him?

Orlando Magic v Toronto Raptors - Game Five Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Outside of Vucevic, Orlando’s core is comprised mostly of players with high ceilings and decent floors. Mo Bamba, though extremely raw, has the physical potential to match or even eclipse Jonathan Isaac on the defensive end of the floor. Isaac already put together an impressive year, and looks poised to see further improvement on his jumper. If either of these players pan out entirely, Vucevic could get phased out.

Vucevic is an underrated passer, but needs shooters around him to draw extra defenders out of the post. As we saw this series, he gets shut down quite quickly when doubled or when pestered by intelligent defenders.

Nikola deserves some bank this summer, but the Magic’s biggest priority should be finding shooters in free agency to take some offensive pressure off Aaron Gordon. If Vucevic could be had at a discount, I’d be more than happy to sign him. However, running the offense through him lowers the team’s ceiling, especially if it comes at the expense of collecting long-range threats this offseason.

We would love to see Jonathan Isaac take a Pascal Siakam-like leap in the near future. What did Siakam do to improve so much this season and do you see any similarities between him and Isaac?

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, Siakam’s play was comparable to Jonathan Isaac (at least on the offensive end). In many ways, Isaac had a better season in 2018-2019 than Siakam did last year. Isaac already has a smoother jumper (which is bound to fall consistently one of these days), and doesn’t look nearly as lost on offense as Siakam did last year. Over the summer, Siakam worked on his ball handling, driving ability and three-point shot. Later this season, he began to develop a midrange jumper as an option to counter opponents with massive length on the inside.

Isaac and Siakam have similar builds, so if he puts the work in, I can see Isaac making a massive jump in the near future. Granted, Siakam is already 25 and, as a result, has had more time to work on his strength. Often, he bullies defenders on the inside, finishing on top of them or spinning around them for a strong take to the rim.

On the defensive end, Siakam always sticks to his man, from the perimeter to the paint. Isaac’s physical presence on the inside is daunting, but he gets caught off guard on the perimeter quite a bit. If he were to make a Siakam-esque defensive leap, he’s need to work on his awareness and lateral quickness.

You know Terrence Ross pretty well from his years in Toronto. He is a free agent this summer and many in Orlando have joked all season that the Magic need to give him a lifetime contract. What kind of contract do you see Ross commanding this summer?

NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

We love T-Ross. He’s our boy. He recently expressed his desire to sign with the Magic come free agency, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Magic had similar plans. He’s the perfect spark off the bench, chipping in with a flurry of threes when he gets rolling and can be integrated into almost any offense. He had the best year of his career in Orlando, which is great, but also means signing him may not be cheap. He’s bound to make, at the very least, 9-10 million dollars per year and likely wants a long-term deal.

I can see a young team overpaying for him (Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks etc.) so it really depends on what he’s looking for. If Ross truly loves the situation in Orlando, he may opt to take a slight discount so the Magic can add more guard depth. Unfortunately, signing both Ross and Vucevic to large deals may prove to be difficult, and would undoubtedly hinder the Magic’s ability to grow via bringing in external talent. I hope Ross signs in Orlando - you guys have a really young, fun team and he compliments your young pieces perfectly.

Based on a dominant first round performance, how do you think this year’s Raptors team compares to previous year’s teams that didn’t fare so well in the postseason? Are you convinced that this is the best chance they’ve had to make a run to the NBA Finals?

Orlando Magic v Toronto Raptors - Game Two Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Game 1 of this series brought back feelings of dread, doubt and despair rooted in painful memories I pushed aside all year long. At that point, I was convinced the Raptors would forever remain in fake-contention purgatory, regardless of roster changes and gameplay-related stylistic promises. Looking back, I can safely say that I’ve never been happier to be so wrong about something.

Powered by relentless motor Kyle Lowry, this Raptors squad finally has all the right pieces to make this work. In playoffs past, we would count on scrubs like Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll to play well consistently, despite no evidence either could do so. Now, Raptors fans are shocked and dismayed by a poor performance from any of the Raptors’ starters. In franchise history, the Raptors haven’t come close to even sniffing the level of talent currently assembled on this team.

If the Raptors don’t make the Finals this year I’ll be devastated for a couple weeks, but then I’ll get over it. Regardless of Kawhi’s decision, we still have Siakam for at least the next few years, coupled with OG Anunoby. Masai Ujiri has done a wonderful job of setting up the future while breeding, retaining and collecting some of the best talent in the league. This might be the Raptors’ best chance to reach the Finals so far, but who knows what the future brings?

Thanks again to Dylan for chatting all series long. Be sure to follow Raptors HQ during what will likely be a long postseason run for Toronto.