By Kent Tukeli
Our friends at Canada Sports Betting break down the Raptors transition to a more modern style of basketball, offering insight into the benefits of such a move.
Last year, the Toronto Raptors performed well during the regular season, earning their second straight 50-win season.
Toronto made the Conference Finals in 2016, earning a pair of tough wins over LeBron and the Cavaliers before bowing out to the greatest player of our generation.
In comparison, the 2017 playoffs were a nightmare. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks surprised the NBA by jumping out to a 2-1 first-round lead against the favoured Raptors. The Cavs disrespected Toronto in round two. This included the infamous LeBron perimeter ball-spin in the mug of newly-acquired Serge Ibaka, a perfectly shareable, yet angering, social media moment.
Jason Kidd was able to scare Toronto with Giannis and a group of overperforming youngsters by leveraging a combo of length and three-point shooting, traits which Toronto simply didn’t possess.
Kidd adjusted his lineup by giving Thon Maker, Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Greg Monroe and Matthew Dellavedova big minutes. These players mostly dwarfed the size of the Raptors rotation. Giannis ran wild and Khris Middleton showed why he’s an underrated swingman.
Excepting Monroe, these Bucks were able to pop enough threes to force a six-game series. Things were so bad for the Raptors that DeMar DeRozan didn’t hit a single field goal in game three, creating justifiable panic in the North.
The Raptors would eventually bear down and feast on the Bucks inexperience and lack of depth, but Toronto’s offseason revealed a desire to trend towards modern basketball.
Out With The Old, In With The Huge
No disrespect, but the best offseason moves in 2017 were additions by subtraction. GM Masai Ujiri rejigged by jettisoning DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and P.J. Tucker. These players simply weren’t draining threes at an acceptable rate, and most were undersized compared to competing guards and forwards.
Signing C.J. Miles brought joy to Toronto basketball nerds, bringing a legit three-and-D presence in from the rebuilding Pacers. Additional responsibility was assigned to players farmed from the Raptors strong talent development scheme, which combines superb scouting, patience, and the ability to provide playing time via the 905 G League squad down the QEW.
Coach Casey switched up starters over the first quarter of the 2017-18 campaign, giving Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira and OG Anunoby the chance to excel.
Most notably, OG has started eight in a row, averaging 21.6 minutes and 7.4 PPG on .605/.435/.750 shooting splits. Anunoby’s complimentary stats aren’t spectacular, but he’s earned a 3.4 plus/minus during his time as a starter.
OG, Pascal, Delon, Norman average more than 18 minutes a game, while Poeltl and VanVleet pitch in more than 15 minutes. Jakob is the only youngster out of the group who doesn’t shoot threes. The rest hit at least 0.5 three-pointers per game.
More importantly, all these players possess length, reach and quickness. This allows the Raptors to play “positionless” basketball, giving coach Casey the ability to deploy switching when needed.
Despite a cohort of youngsters, the Raps are top ten in defensive rating, as per Basketball Reference. The offence hums along as usual, leading the Raptors to the third best net rating in the association, behind the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
Even the 21-4 Boston Celtics remain a full point behind the Raptors in net rating, promising a season of continual improvement from Toronto’s youngsters.
Certainly, the Raptors go as far as Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka will take them, but Toronto’s big three will carry a lighter load because of GM Ujiri and coach Casey’s focus on turning to modern basketball in the North.