Two franchises that made some noise last season are being touted as potential Eastern Conference Finalists if things go their way, but who’s better, the Toronto Raptors or the Washington Wizards? There are arguments to be made for both teams, but it might be easier to let the numbers speak for themselves.
Last year Toronto was 48-34 compared to the Wizards record of 44-38 and the defensive minded Raptors held teams to a league seventh best 98 points per game versus the ninth ranked Wizards at 99.4 points surrendered. The Raptors also held an advantage at the offensive end of the court were they scored 101.3 points per game to 100.7 for the Wizards, a stat that was only emphasized by Toronto’s slower pace. The Raptors also outrebounded their opponents on average 42.5 to 41 while the Wizards broke even on the boards.
Toronto took the season series 3-1 with the only Wizards victory coming in a triple overtime game of attrition that saw three Raptors and two Wizards foul out. Over the four games, Toronto outscored Washington by an average of 6.5 points on 49.5 percent shooting from the field, netting over 107 points per game. Washington simply had no answers about how to stop Toronto from scoring. Somewhat unexpectedly, however, the Wizards owned the boards, averaging five more rebounds per game. They were just not able to finish at a high enough rate, shooting 44.6 percent from the field.
Both teams can argue they improved over the summer and a position-to-position comparison illustrates just how closely matched the two teams are heading into this season.
Point Guard – slight edge Toronto
John Wall was a first time All-Star in 2014 and has put up some of his best numbers against Toronto. He averaged 25.3 points on 53.3 percent shooting and 6 assists over 4 games last year, but his +/- of -5.8 points is just slightly better than his team’s -6.5 points.
Kyle Lowry had a career year in Toronto and he played big games against the Wizards. He averaged 18.3 points and 10.3 assists while hitting 9-19 from three-point range.
Lowry averaged 2.9 more assists per game against Washington than his season average and Wall averaged 2.8 assists fewer, wiping out Wall’s scoring advantage and putting this matchup at a draw.
With both teams starting point guards averaging about 40 minutes per game against one another, the backup position might not seem as important.
Andre Miller is 38 years-old and only played in two games against Toronto, but he is their best backup and averaged 21.9 minutes, 3 points and 5 assists. 27-year-old Greivis Vasquez joined Toronto mid-season and played three times against Washington averaging 25.7 minutes, 13.3 points and 5.7 assists.
The point guard battle will continue to a great one, but the Raptors backup situation gives them the edge at this position.
Shooting Guard – Toronto
DeMar DeRozan was first time All-Star in 2014 and against Washington he averaged 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists which was right around his season averages, but at 48.4 percent shooting from the field, he shot almost 6 percent better than against the rest of the league.
Bradley Beal didn’t enjoy his usual offensive success against Toronto, averaging just 12.3 points on 30.2 percent shooting, 5.5 rebounds and 4 assists. His season average was 17.1 points on 41.9 percent from the field.
Toronto acquired Lou Williams in the summer as a backup guard. He averaged 10.3 points and 28.6 minutes against Washington last year.
Martell Webster likely backups up Beal at shooting guard and could also pick up minutes backing up small forward. He averaged 8.8 points in 33.3 minutes against the Raptors last season.
Hands down, the Raptors owned the shooting guard position in games against Washington.
Small Forward – slight edge Washington
The Wizards lost Trevor Ariza, but replaced him with the 36-year-old Paul Pierce. Except for the age factor, Pierce would be a big upgrade. He can still score, although he did play a lot of power forward for the Nets to avoid the quicker wings like Toronto has. Pierce was very effective against the Raptors last year, averaging 30.8 minutes and 19.8 points.
Terrence Ross started to figure things out in his sophomore season and appropriately started in 62 games. He only averaged 22.5 minutes and 9.5 points against Washington and was used primarily as a three point shooter, but he did shoot 47.1 percent from deep on the Wizards and 40.2 percent from three-point range as a starter on the season.
At backup, Washington should be using their 2013 third overall draft pick Otto Porter, if they will trust him enough to play over Webster – they should. Porter did nothing against Toronto, but it could be argued, he wasn’t given a chance.
Toronto re-acquired the 6’8 defensive forward James Johnson to give them some athletic muscle at small forward. If Ross struggles against bigger small forwards, Johnson is a player with the size and speed to give older or slower players like Pierce problems.
Pierce gives Washington the early season edge, but this isn’t the slam dunk it would have been a few years back and he can’t really play more than 30 minutes a night. The younger more athletic Raptors may win this position back and they should own it when Pierce goes to the bench. Pierce will not have gotten any quicker over the summer and the Wizards are deathly thin on the wing unless Porter steps up.
Power Forward – Toronto
The Wizards are deep at power forward and Nene Hilario is a proven veteran. He put up a decent 14 points and 6.3 rebounds in 30.3 minutes in 3 games against the Raptors, but he shot a terrible (for a big man) 42.5 percent from the field.
Toronto is similarly deep at power forward and Amir Johnson had the edge on Nene last year. He averaged 31.7 minutes, 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, but Johnson was an efficient 68.4 percent from the field.
The Wizards acquired DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries to backup up the four/five spots and they’ll help. Against Toronto, Blair averaged 6 points and 5.5 rebounds in 19.4 minutes and Humphries averaged 8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 20.3 minutes last year.
Patrick Patterson is a physically imposing stretch four who averaged 26.6 minutes, 11 points and 4.7 rebounds on 63.6 percent shooting and 57.1 percent from three-point range against the Wizards. Tyler Hansbrough plays strictly in the paint and averaged 16.4 minutes, 5.7 points and 4 rebounds versus Washington.
Johnson outplayed Nene last season, but the Raptors big advantage at power forward was off the bench where the Wizards did not have an answer for Patterson and it looks like they still don’t.
Center – Washington
The 30-year-old Marcin Gortat enjoyed playing against Toronto. He shot 7 percent better from the field and averaged 3 more points to put up 16.3 points and 9 boards on 61.1 percent from the field.
Raptors sophomore center Jonas Valanciunas was overmatched by Gortat in 2013-14. He averaged 8.8 points and 8.5 rebounds on 45.7 percent shooting – down 2.5 points and 7.4 percent from the field from his season averages.
While Valanciunas appeared to take big strides during the playoffs and while playing for Lithuania this summer, he has a lot of ground to make up against Gortat.
In reality, not a lot has changed for the Raptors and Wizards from last season. Both teams added some needed bench strength, but both teams are counting on the continued development of their young players in order to take another step this season.
Wall and DeRozan have made their first All-Star teams, but the winner of this matchup will come down to the development of Beal and Porter in Washington versus Ross and Valanciunas in Toronto. For now, Washington may have shot themselves in the foot by not playing Porter more last season.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.
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