“Do or do not, there is no try.” – Master Yoda
That quote speaks true for the Raptors this upcoming season. There are no excuses. The team is not trying to tank, they’ve got a lead man in Rudy Gay and a bunch of young, talented pieces that could and should carry them to the 8th seed in the East.
With the number of teams trying to tank to acquire Andrew Wiggins, the Raps’ chances should be even better this season, right? Especially considering the Bucks snuck in last season with a losing record; 38-44.
Well, the NBA scene has shifted slightly this summer as it usually does, changing rosters and teams’ potential. Do the Raptors truly have a shot with the moves Ujiri made this summer?
Let’s take a look. Here are the absolute locks for the 2013-14 postseason (in no particular order):
5. New York
Those are the only teams I see that are already cemented to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Hawks would be the next team on the list, but after losing their main man in Josh Smith and making very small moves otherwise, it’s hard to see Al Horford being able to carry his team easily to the playoffs. Maybe if Jeff Teague has a big year or if Paul Millsap makes more of a difference than first presumed.
That leaves three spots left over in the playoff chase.
The Raptors will be looking to snag any of them, but 8th has got to be a must in the minds of Dwane Casey and his players.
But are the Raptors better than the other teams they’re fighting with to enter the postseason?
Looks like it’s comparison time! Let’s first assume that all players on their respective rosters are healthy, then compare them straight up along with coaches and the like. Any team can beat any other team on any given night, but for the sake of trying to sketch out the playoff contenders this early, doing it this way is a more fun and reasonable path.
Raptors vs Bobcats (Soon to be Hornets)
Center: Jonas Valanciunas vs Al Jefferson
Jefferson was a big part of what the Utah Jazz did last year. The offense ran through him a lot and lots of fans thought he got snubbed from the All-Star game. He will be a great asset for the Bobcats and is immediately their best player. He has a much better jumper than Jonas at the moment and is one of the few centers in the East that Jonas might not be able to overtake just yet.
Power Forward: Amir Johnson vs Cody Zeller
I’m going to assume that Johnson starts over Hansbrough in these comparisons, only because right now no one has any idea who will actually start, and because last year Amir did start and Tyler came off the bench. Zeller is a great young talent and showed some great stuff in the Summer League, but Amir has got experience and tenacity over the young big that would give the Raps an edge.
Small Forward: Rudy Gay vs Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
MKG can’t shoot to save his life and is simply limited offensively despite his athleticism. Where the kid comes in handy is on the defensive side of the floor. He has solid timing for blocking shots and is long enough to effect most jump shots. But let’s be clear here, Rudy Gay is levels beyond MKG at this point. Levels
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan vs Ben Gordon
Now this would be an interesting matchup. DeRozan is still working on improving his defense and Gordon is debatably the best Bobcat on the roster. DD could be tested by Gordon going at him and trying to rack up points on him. But going the other way, DeMar has the size advantage and is superiorly athletic. With an improved jump shot, DD should take this matchup most of the time.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry vs Kemba Walker
When watching these two teams play, this is the matchup you’re looking at. Walker is undersized but he is extremely quick and agile, looking to take it to the hoop almost every trip down the floor. He would be a handful for Lowry to cover, but Kyle is a very good defender and much stronger than Walker. He wouldn’t be able to keep him completely under wraps, but if he could slow him down, that’s enough to make the ‘Cats lose. Plus, Walker would not be able to defend the heavier and bulldozer-like body of Lowry.
The Raptors have got Steve Novak to come off the bench and be a spark by nailing threes, Tyler Hansbrough by coming in doing the dirty work that is so badly needed for a team trying to make a playoff run, Terrence Ross to provide relief for DeMar and D.J. Augustin to back up Lowry and make some shots; who was also once the starting PG for the ‘Cats. Charlotte would respond with Tyrus Thomas, Bismack Biyombo, Josh McRoberts, Jeffery Taylor and Ramon Sessions. Biyombo might be the only one in that group who could give the Raps’ bench some trouble.
Head Coaches: Dwane Casey vs Steve Clifford
Casey is a defensive minded coach who – Wait, Steve Clifford? Who the heck is that?!
Overall Series Winner: Raptors
Who’s got next?
Raptors vs Magic
Center: Jonas Valanciunas vs Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic impressed many last season with his play and earned quite a few double-doubles for himself. In fact, when the Magic played most other teams, he was the guy giving the opponent headaches. Vucevic is young and talented, but hasn’t developed quite as much post game as Jonas has already done. Both of them don’t mind getting rough in the post and trying to dunk the ball whenever possible. At this stage, it could go either way.
Power Forward: Amir Johnson vs Glen Davis
Davis was injured much of last season but he was debatably the team’s best player before he went down. He’s a scrappy player, just like Amir, who will fight for rebounds and can make a mid-range jumper with relative ease if you play too far off of him. Both he and Johnson are undersized, so there is no edge there, but Davis is definitely the stronger of the two. Johnson is much longer, more athletic and is starting to develop a consistent mid-range shot, but it’s nowhere as good as Davis’. It’s not hard to see Davis keeping Amir away form the rim.
Small Forward: Rudy Gay vs Aaron Afflalo*
Afflalo had a decent year last year and is getting better. He can shoot the ball and he is athletic enough to take it to the rim against most defenders. He had a few big games for Orlando last season, but again, he’s nowhere close to Gay’s level. Rudy would give him fits on the defensive end and if it came down to it, no way Afflalo is standing in the way of Rudy getting the shot he wants.
*Side note: I left Turkoglu out of the talks for now because of his recent drug-bust. No one’s quite certain on what his position will be come the Fall.
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan vs Victor Oladipo
Oladipo showed some great stuff in the Summer League and had more than one 20+-point game. He’s already gaining some comparisons to a young Dwyane Wade due to his athleticism, size and preference to shoot mid-range shots without extending his range much beyond the arc. The kid has guts and that would show in most certainly any contest, but DeMar would have experience over the rookie and be much stronger. At the moment, DD could also shoot it better and would probably be able to overwhelm the young guard by matching his speed when trying to take it to the rack.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry vs Jameer Nelson
Nelson can really shoot the ball and has made lots of clutch shots in his career. He was the second best player at one point during the Magic’s Dwight Howard era and he brings years of leadership and playoff (even Finals) experience. When he’s healthy, he’s a tough guard to handle. Lowry is a strong defender, but he would never be able to leave Nelson open at all for fear of him dropping treys in his face. Going the other way, Nelson would have a tough time against Lowry’s physical game since he’s only 6’0” and 190lbs.
Advantage (Slightly): Raptors
Tyler Hansbrough would have to go out and mix it up with guys like Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless and Jason Maxiell. It would be a tough job for him to continue to defend the rotation of all these guys, even with Amir’s starting help. Novak could help combat the Magic’s three-point threats by being his own weapon against guys like Doron Lamb and Al Harrington. Terrence Ross is more athletic than any player on the Magic’s bench, and could potentially take it to the rim against anyone they put on him. Augustin would be able to handle Ronnie Price fairly well also.
Head Coaches: Dwane Casey vs Jacque Vaughn
Vaughn is relatively new to the scene after replacing former head coach, Stan Van Gundy, who was fired as a result of “The Dwightmare”. He’s done an all right job with his club so far, but there isn’t much a coach can do with the sort of talent and injuries he had to deal with last season, which makes it hard to gauge how good he really is. Right now, Casey has got the upper hand with a clearly better method of improving his players’ defense and having been the Raps’ coach for a few seasons now.
Overall Series Winner: Raptors
Raptors vs Cavaliers
Center: Jonas Valanciunas vs Andrew Bynum
The move to acquire Bynum was a risky one by the Cavs; he missed all of last season due to knee injuries. But at the same time, when healthy, Bynum is undisputedly one of the best big men in the league. He could even be considered the second best, only behind Dwight Howard. Jonas would have a hard time dealing with Bynum’s bulk and power. He isn’t quite developed enough at the moment as a player to deal with someone who has made most of the other big men in the league look like rag dolls in the post.
Power Forward: Amir Johnson vs Tristan Thompson
These two are both young, scrappy and trying to improve their jumpers. Thompson has proven to be a force in the post before, but there’s been times where he’s also seemed somewhat timid. Johnson would take advantage of any lapse that Thompson would have and would be going at him hard all game, even though he would be outmatched in the size department. From what can be seen at the moment, it is almost certain that these two would “cancel each other out”.
Small Forward: Rudy Gay vs Alonzo Gee
Gee is athletic and loves to take the ball to the rim; he’s a handful to deal with in the open court. But is weakness of not being able to shoot would have him in big trouble against Gay, who would back off of him and happily allow him to jack up open looks all night. Again, Gay has the experience and abilities to easily outplay someone like Gee.
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan vs Dion Waiters
Waiters was very inconsistent during his first year in the NBA. He was also like that in the Summer League. But he’s shown flashes of brilliance and makes a great combo with Kyrie Irving. He can shoot the three and is fairly athletic for his size. DD definitely has him beaten in the athleticism category, but he would be hard best to match Waiters shot-for-shot. DeRozan would have the size advantage and has been more consistent with his own game ever since Gay arrived and opened the floor up for him. Waiters, who is still learning as a defender, wouldn’t be able to stop DD from putting up some significant numbers.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry vs Kyrie Irving
Irving is one of the NBA’s brightest future superstars, who tears defenses apart like he’s ripping through tissue paper. Even though Lowry prides himself on his defensive work, he would have an incredibly difficult time trying to stay with Irving for the entire game. Kyrie would be able to get the shots he wanted at any time and would be able to take Lowry to the rack if he decided to try and take away his three-point shooting. If Irving has one weakness, it’s his defense, so Lowry would be able to drive into the lane and get some points that way, but overall, he’s no match for Irving.
Anthony Bennett, the 1st overall pick in the 2012-13 NBA draft, has not been able to show us what he’s capable of yet as he’s been sidelined with injury. But he’s certainly not going to be a scrub. Then there’s Anderson Varejao, A.K.A. “The-Rebound-But-Can’t-Score-Machine” who is sure to provide energy off the pine. The Cavs also made a smart move in stealing Jarrett Jack away from the Warriors, who was runner-up to J.R. Smith for 6th Man of the Year last season. Tyler Zeller and Earl Clark would also be coming off of the bench with proven shooter Daniel Gibson. Unfortunately, the Raps’ bench mob is clearly outclassed here.
Head Coaches: Dwane Casey vs Mike Brown
Brown led the Cavaliers to a few 60+-win seasons when LeBron James still ruled the city. He’s a defensive minded coach, much like Casey (but with more experience), and doesn’t care to look at the offensive end nearly as much. This actually might be a great fit for the Cavs, who already have the brilliance of Kyrie Irving to lead them on offense. If you had to compare resumés here, Brown would be the obvious choice.
Overall Series Winner: Cavaliers
(To be Continued…)