A couple of years ago the Toronto Raptors were mired in a five year slog through the NBA Lottery. They were soft and easy pickings for the rest of the league. Virtually the very first thing incoming President and General Manager Masai Ujiri wanted to do was change that perception.
Changes came two summers ago and perhaps the biggest signal Ujiri didn’t want his team pushed around anymore was the signing of free agent Tyler Hansbrough. While “Psycho T” wasn’t a franchise changing talent, he was the type of player Head Coach Dwane Casey wanted and needed to start developing a new tougher persona on the court.
Ujiri will admit to an element of luck over the past two franchise record setting seasons. It seems like every move he’s made has taken the Raptors one step closer to being the type of team he wanted to build on his arrival. This summer’s blue collar moves should be considered a major leap forward in the rise of the Raptors.
In the simplest of terms, Ujiri has exchanged the outbound Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Amir Johnson and probably the still unsigned free agent Tyler Hansbrough for the inbound Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo.
On a simple combined basis,
The four outbound players averaged 9.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 22.6 minutes
The four inbound players averaged 8.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 22.4 minutes.
Neither Williams nor Vasquez are known for their defense and they both saw a lot of minutes on the court. Johnson and Hansbrough are two-way players, but Johnson was often hampered by ankle problems and Hansbrough is limited offensively. Neither forward provided much rim protection and both were forced to play out of position at center far too often.
All of the inbound players are known for their toughness and defense. Joseph already has a reputation as one of the better defensive guards in the league. Carroll anchored the perimeter defense for the 60-win Hawks. Scola remains a solid two-way player and Biyombo averaged more blocks than all four of the outbound former Raptors combined and he did it in less than 20 minutes per game.
Backup point guard: Joseph vs Vasquez
Vasquez averaged 9.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 24.3 minutes. He shot 40.8 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three.
Joseph averaged 6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 18.3 minutes. He shot 50.4 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three.
Adjusting for minutes played, Vasquez still scored slightly more points, but his field goal percentage was so dramatically lower than Joseph’s that it wasn’t worth it. Not only is Joseph a significantly better defender, he has also been a lot more efficient offensively.
Expect Joseph to see a major increase in minutes played this coming season, his scoring is about to take a significant leap.
Forward: Scola vs Johnson
Johnson averaged 9.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 26.4 minutes. He shot 57.4 percent from the field. He could hit the long ball, but didn’t take enough of them to matter.
Scola averaged 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 20.3 minutes. He shot 46.7 percent from the field. He didn’t take or make many three-pointers.
While Johnson and Scola have surprisingly similar numbers, Scola did it in 23 percent less time. Even at 35-years-old, the crafty veteran remains strikingly more effective scoring and efficient on the glass. Taking down 25.6 percent of the available defensive rebounds last season, Scola was close to top-10 rebounder Kevin Love’s 26.3 percent. Johnson only grabbed 17.3 of the available defensive boards and rebounding was a big problem for Toronto last year.
The Raptors will miss Johnson’s offensive efficiency and overall team presence, but he just didn’t score enough points often enough to take advantage of his offense. Scola should provide a similar kind of veteran stability to the team and his durability should prevent his presence from disappearing like Johnson’s did a little too often. Johnson has only played in all 82 games once in his career. Scola has only failed to play in every game twice.
Center: Biyombo vs Hansbrough
Hansbrough averaged 3.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.2 blocks and 14.3 minutes. He shot 52.1 percent from the field.
Biyombo averaged 4.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 19.4 minutes. He shot 54.3 percent from the field.
Often playing out of position at center, Hansbrough was the Raptors second best offensive rebounder (11.6 percent) and defensive rebounder (tied at 17.3 percent) after Jonas Valanciunas. However, he was never a rim protector and earned his minutes as a physical energy guy.
Unfortunately for Hansbrough, Biyombo is an energy guy as well and has been the better rebounder (13.7 percent offensive, 22.6 percent defensive boards). Both players are expected to do dirty work for the second unit, but the 7’6 wingspan of Biyombo just gives him a natural advantage that Hansbrough’s effort can’t make up for. Biyombo can legitimately play both the center and power forward spots, rebound and block shots.
Wing: Carroll vs Williams
Williams averaged 15.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 25.2 minutes. He shot 40.4 percent from the field and 34 percent from three. Williams attempted 5.6 three-pointers per game.
Carroll averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 31.3 minutes. He shot 48.7 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three. He attempted 4.3 three-pointer per game.
So it’s not entirely a fair comparison, but while Carroll is taking Terrence Ross’ spot in the rotation, Ross will be sliding back to assume Williams’ place – assuming Ross can hold off both Joseph and rookie Delon Wright for minutes.
In many ways comparing Carroll to Williams is the entire thrust of Ujiri’s summer moves. Ujiri wanted a tougher team, better rebounding and defense, a team that was more in tune with the strengths of his head coach.
This revamped roster will play tough defense. They won’t get beaten up on the boards like last year’s squad and they still have enough three-point firepower with the additions of Joseph and Carroll to stretch the floor again this season.
As much as Williams and Vasquez could win the Raptors games with scoring, this summer’s additions only give back a little of that offensive potential for a whole lot more at the other end. The Toronto Raptors have taken another big step forward under Ujiri’s direction.
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“We need to get better,” Ujiri said. “Obviously we were going to address some of the things that we don’t do so well and rebounding was one of them, so hopefully we can get better at that with guys that are tough-nosed and have a nose for the ball.”