The NBA's highly anticipated Disney World restart provides an endless number of storylines to dig into, and brings about plenty of questions to consider for the 22 teams remaining in the 2019-20 season.
But all those storylines and questions can wait.
We'll have plenty of time to immerse ourselves in the NBA's daily drama over the course of 88 seeding games, fervent playoff races, and potential play-in games, as well as the postseason itself.
After more than four months without NBA basketball and not a single fan to be found in the arena, there will be an almost unprecedented beauty and comfort to be found in the smallest, most familiar details of the game.
Whether your fandom is tied to a specific team or the star-laden league in general, everyone who watches NBA ball will experience some of these moments over the next few days. For fans and observers of the defending champion Toronto Raptors, there are various options. Perhaps the first Pascal Siakam spin move, or the first charge taken by Kyle Lowry, will serve as the comforting reminder that basketball is back.
For me, the moment will hit home the first time I watch Lowry and Serge Ibaka run a pick-and-roll to perfection.
The Raptors' off-ball movement and collective basketball IQ is a sight to behold, but there's nothing overly complex about this specific action. It's just a simple play executed by two competitive veterans who've developed an almost clairvoyant synergy over the last three years.
Lowry's two-way game can be defined by guile almost as much as relentlessness. The six-time All-Star, who possesses one of the sharpest basketball minds, runs Toronto's offense with the ball on a string while being hyperaware of the other nine players (and three officials) on the court.
At all times, Lowry seems to know where those nine players are, where they're supposed to be, and where they'll end up on a given possession. Over the last few years, however, he appears to have become especially in tune with Ibaka, and that harmony is most evident when the pair combine to run a pick-and-roll.
The pick-and-roll's become the NBA's most commonly used offensive action, so it's not like the Raptors are reinventing the wheel. But you'll be hard-pressed to find a duo as in sync as Lowry and Ibaka, who operate with the type of synchronization only achieved through endless repetition in a league increasingly defined by roster turnover.
Ibaka knows the intricate details and precise angles necessary to screen for Lowry. Kyle - who's absolutely mastered the art of the pocket pass - will work with surgical precision, both in timing his delivery and in the way he'll thread that pass through any maze of defenders. Lowry, of course, is also always a threat to pull up off a screen, which keeps both defenders off balance.
Ibaka's offensive skill development serves as a reminder that good teams prioritize player development up and down their roster; it's not exclusive to inexperienced young players. He may no longer post gaudy numbers of blocks, but he remains an effective rim-protector and is in the midst of his finest offensive season at 30 years old. He's also developed his own bit of playmaking savvy.
Ibaka's own scoring efficiency as the roll-man (1.01 points per possession) is surprisingly pedestrian, but he's become a multifaceted threat in those actions.
If he rolls after setting the screen, Ibaka can use his strength and nimbleness to rumble his way to the rim, where he's shooting 76.2% within three feet of the basket. Or he can put that newfound playmaking to use by finding shooters and cutters.
The most familiar result of the Lowry-Ibaka combo, however, sees Ibaka pop rather than roll, and it's tough to argue with the results. The 11-year vet is shooting nearly 48% from 10-16 feet, is taking the longest and least efficient 2-pointers (from 16-feet plus) less frequently than ever, and is shooting a career-best 39.8% from deep.
"Serge has certainly improved his rolling and his popping, but his shooting is what's making him so dangerous now … if they're gonna send two (defenders) to Kyle," Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said this week about the effectiveness of the pick-and-roll duo.
Combine Ibaka's skill set with the game-managing brilliance of Lowry and the Raptors' collective shooting ability - in Nurse's movement-heavy system - and this simplest of plays can yield hefty rewards.
On a per-minute basis, Lowry to Ibaka is the league's fourth-most frequent assist combo, and the most frequent connection between two Raptors.
On a basketball level, it just makes sense that the Raptors would milk it for all it's worth. On an emotional level, it's fitting and almost uplifting to consider the seamless on-court bond forged by two veterans who continue to evolve and improve, even on the wrong side of 30.
"Kyle's IQ is way up there. He can read those defenses pretty quickly and almost direct traffic for Serge, telling him 'It's a long roll,' or 'It's a short roll,' or 'It's a pop,' or there's extra separation, or whatever he sees," Nurse said. "And he's willing to make the right play. It's a good combo. Both those guys are veteran players and they spend a lot of time together working at it."
Perhaps the Raptors will go to the Lowry-Ibaka pick-and-roll early in the first quarter of their Disney opener against the Lakers. Maybe it won't be as effective at first, or maybe it'll slice up the Lakers' defense and spur a run that puts the game away.
Whatever the case, when Toronto does deploy this two-man action Saturday night, Raptors fans will immediately recognize the familiarity of what they're watching, and appreciate the beauty found in its simplicity.
After the pandemic caused a shutdown that lasted longer than a traditional offseason, fans could use that kind of perspective.
Joseph Casciaro is theScore's senior basketball writer.