So, we lost the opener to the Pacers. It was a disappointing finish to a great game, but there were some positives to take from it, as Arse outlined (in a double-dip post-game!). The crowd at the ACC seemed raucous, Jonas looked strong, if not overeager, Kyle Lowry looked as advertised, and the team’s defense outside of the first quarter was stellar.
In terms of tonight’s game, there’s no point in doing my usual quick table comparing rates and rankings since a) the Raptors have played just one game, b) the Nets have played zero thanks to Hurricane Sandy, and c) using 2011-12 statistics for these Nets would be ridiculous.
Toronto In: Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross, John Lucas, Quincy Acy, Dominic McGuire
Toronto Out: Jerryd Bayless, Gary Forbes, James Johnson, Jamaal Magloire, Ben Uzoh, Solomon Alabi
Brooklyn In: Barclays Center, Joe Johnson, Mirza Teletovic, C.J. Watson, Reggie Evans, Jerry Stackhouse, Andray MFing Blatche, Tyshawn Taylor
Brooklyn Out: Prudential Center, Sundiata Gaines, Gerald Green, DeShawn Stevenson, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Williams, Johan Petro
The Nets are obviously much improved, to the point that Hollinger, among others, predicted 46 wins and a 4-seed in the Eastern Conference. I’m not nearly as optimistic about them in general, but it’s difficult to find teams in the East that are better on paper than a team led by Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez. All but Deron have pretty serious warts but together that’s a formidable top-four players. No, I don’t think they’d have a chance against the Heat, Lakers, Spurs, or Thunder, but their range of finished in the East is pretty reasonably as high as two and only as low as maybe sixth. The Nets won’t defend well, but they’ll score with great efficiency, and that’s going to be enough in the East most nights. Specifically, Deron and Johnson are both dangerous outside threats, while Deron is also one of the best at setting up three-point field goals for teammates, shots Johnson hits with great success.
*Per Ryan Wolstat of the Sun, the Toronto Raptors hosted the New Jersey Nets in their first ever game, were the New Jersey’s final opponent, and will be Brooklyn’s first ever opponent and the first visitor to the Barclays Center.
*Also per Wolstat, the best poorly-worded quote of all time. Dwane Casey on Andray MFing Blatche: “Dwane Casey thinks Andray Blatche is very, very good. Says he kills all his teams.” I bet he does.
Guards: Kyle Lowry (starter) and Jose Calderon vs. Deron Williams (starter) and C.J. Watson
If we phrased this as guards/forwards/centers, the Nets advantage would be even more extreme here. As it is, as much as I’ve fallen in man-love with Lowry, Deron Williams is one of the premier guards in the league. While his FG% fluctuates wildly and last season was just 41%, he’s a consistent 20-10 threat who is also adequate defensively and better when motivated. Lowry should be able to stay in front of him without issues, but Williams is one of the best guards in the league when it comes to posting up, where he’d have a huge advantage over the smaller Lowry (that said, he only posted up 82 times last year). Watson is also the rare backup-PG that can rival Jose in terms of backup quality. While he’s not the offensive force Calderon is, he’s a tenacious defender and long-range threat. Calderon likely has the slight edge, but it’s not enough to make up for Williams’ advantage. It’s also worth noting that the Nets don’t employ many small guards, meaning the 19 minutes of two-PG lineups we saw in the opener should be shelved.
Wings: DeMar DeRozan (starter), Landry Fields (starter), Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson vs. Joe Johnson (starter), Gerald Wallace (starter), MarShon Brooks and Josh Childress
Johnson is an all-star calibre scorer, and is actually probably DeRozan’s ultimate upside (and the cautionary tale that convinced Colangelo to re-up DeRozan now). He’ll be a tough guard for DeMar, so we’ll likely see the more savvy Fields draw that assignment, although either give up significant strength to Crash Wallace, as well. I’ve always been a big Wallace fan and if he’s your fourth option you’re in pretty good shape. The Raptor wings played terribly in the opener, with Fields going 0/6 (but having the team’s highest plus-minus rating, showing just how misleading small samples of that stat can be), and DeRozan going 1/7 on shots in the paint. This has to be a game where Fields hits his open looks and DeRozan gets to the hoop and converts, because the advantages at positions one through three are too pronounced for any Raptor to have a bad game.
Bigs: Andrea Bargnani (starter), Jonas Valanciunas (starter), Amir Johnson and Ed Davis vs. Kris Humphries (starter), Brook Lopez (starter), Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche
Humphries and Lopez can both score, but neither can defend, and Lopez might be the only seven-footer on the planet less adept at grabbing rebounds than Bargs. Still, Lopez will pose a defensive issue for the Lethaluanian, but one that hopefully Jonas can negate by beating Lopez consistently at the other end of the floor. No Net big can guard Andrea, meaning his primary goal other than being aggressive will be to play adequate team defense backing up his guards and wings. Bargnani acquitted himself well enough against David West in the opener (West was just really good), and hopefully he maintains that effort level against lesser scorers. As with most games, the Raptors have a big advantage in terms of bigs off the bench, although you never know what you’re going to get with Andray Blatche’s crazy ass.
The Raptors are likely to be in tough, but the matchup on paper read that way against the Pacers as well. Being the first opponent at Barclays means that the Raptors will likely face an inspired and excited crowd, even if they do have trouble getting there, but that won’t be an excuse. The Raptors aren’t going to be the type of team to lie down against anyone, so I’d anticipate the game staying at least close. With that said, unless DeRozan is just overcome with good feelings of butterflies and rainbows and confidence from his new deal, the disadvantage outside of the post players will be just too much. Deron and Joe combine for 50 and the Raps give a solid effort but come just short once again.
Vegas Line: TBD (writing this Friday)
My Prediction: Nets by 5
A Few Words on the DeRozan Extension
I talked about the deal a lot on Twitter leading up to the extension so some of you may already know my feelings. And since Garrett did a great job yesterday with his piece, I didn’t feel the need to write 2000 words on it, as I likely would have. But I still need to get my thoughts out.
The contact is silly. Looking at comparable players, they’re almost uniformly paid less. Looking at comparably paid players, they almost uniformly perform better. Looking at his draft class mates who received similar extensions, they’ve all taken larger strides and shown more marked improvements. The reason the RFA system exists is to avoid exactly this kind of situation; by letting the season play out, the Raptors would have attained certainty, known the market for DeRozan better, and been better able to evaluate a deal. The best case in this scenario was they knew what DeMar was and paid him appropriately, or neglected to overpay him. The worst case was that someone signs him to a 4/48 deal, and the Raptors eventually spend an extra two million a year, a very small price to pay for what would essentially be “insurance” against the deal they just signed.
Now, I LOVE DeMar. Compton High jersey and all that. He seems like a great dude, a committed player who wants to get better and lead the team and the franchise. I have no problem with him being a core part of the franchise moving forward (although I then question the Fields contract and Ross drafting). But at this price, and under a tight-but-not-really deadline like this, I feel it made far more sense to risk paying said “insurance premium” if his value went up, rather than paying an expectant price for significant improvement on both ends of the floor.
Can and will he improve? I wouldn’t bet against it, as the organization knows him best and have indicated he’s the type of person they want to invest in. But the timing and the dollar value don’t make sense even if the player in question was Mahatma Ghandi’s kind heart in Jake Voskuhl’s cheer-leading body with the potential of a thousand Javale McGees.
With all of that said…once pen gets put to paper, the deal is a sunk cost. We can occasionally look back or look forward to evaluate where this contract stands in terms of proper valuation and continued flexibility and all of that. But on a game by game basis, the contract is what it is, and it’s not useful to evaluate the player moving forward in terms of his deal. It’s signed, and as fans our objective should now be to return to evaluating DeRozan on the floor compared to previous versions of himself. If the time comes when we can’t acquire someone because his deal is eating too much space, by all means become vitriolic. But in the meantime, on a nightly basis, forget the deal…the money is paid, the cost is sunk, upward and onward.
I, for one, expect DeRozan to make appreciable improvements this year in terms of shot selection, finishing at the rim, and getting to the line. Whether that’s enough, and whether improvements defensively accompany it, is yet to be seen. Though it’s tough to imagine $9.5M/year looking good at some point, let’s try not to let it sour us on DeRozan.