The Toronto Raptors have jumped out to a quick 3-0 start and while there has been the typical early season sloppy play and rough edges, it has become apparent this team has been built to dominate on the glass. Last year head coach Dwane Casey was often frustrated by his team’s inability to finish off a strong defensive stand with the rebound, so president and general manager Masai Ujiri made the moves necessary to give his coach what he needed.
“Bismack (Biyombo) brings a lot. Jonas (Valanciunas) is doing a heck of a job on the boards. (Luis) Scola quietly is doing a heck of a job on the boards, he’s tough as nails in the paint and also DeMarre Carroll, he gets in there and bangs it up,” Casey explained. “We have added some good rebounders on our team.”
Good is something of an understatement, the Raptors have added superior rebounders at positions of need and they got a nice early season test of what to expect. Indiana, Boston and Milwaukee are supposed to be challenging for Toronto’s spot as a top four team in the Eastern Conference, but the Raptors handled them easily and dominated these early season challengers 49.7 to 37 on the glass.
Toronto has been undersized at starting small forward since the big Rudy Gay trade of two seasons ago and it was probably never completely fair to ask a very young and undersized Terrence Ross to try and keep the bevy of bigger and more experienced starting small forwards off the glass. The veteran presence of Carroll not only gives the Raptors a superior defender at his position, it gives them someone who can successfully fight for position to either box out his man or grab the rebound himself.
Through three games, Carroll is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game and grabbing 10 percent of the available defensive boards which is right around what should be expected. Last year Ross averaged 2.8 rebounds, but he is more effective than that now that he’s coming off the bench as a shooting guard.
In recent history Casey was forced to rely on Amir Johnson to play a lot of minutes at center and while Johnson was effective defensively, he was undersized and his rebounding rate of 13.3 percent last season was part of the reason Toronto all too often gave up second chance points. Ujiri addressed the need for a backup by signing Biyombo and the offensively challenged center hasn’t disappointed.
Biyombo is averaging 7 boards in 17 minutes off the bench as this energizer-bunny pulls in better than 20 percent of the available rebounds at both ends of the court. He still has issues finishing around the basket and his very high personal foul rate reminds one of a young Amir Johnson, but his physical aggressive play is effective and securing rebounds while Valanciunas gets a breather hasn’t been as big a concern.
It came as a surprise to some, but by starting Scola and Valanciunas together, this year’s version of the Raptors isn’t rebounding challenged any more. Valanciunas leads his team with 11 rebounds per game and Scola is second at 8. Both players are rebounding the heck out of the ball at the defensive end and not surprising to anyone that has followed Scola’s career, the big Argentine forward is pounding the offensive glass as well.
It’s early days, but Scola seems to be pushing the younger Valanciunas to be more active on the boards as anything Valanciunas doesn’t aggressively go after, Scola barrages in to take. This activity on the glass as a team was something that was missing last season, but it’s been there in spades so far this year.
Ujiri addressed an obvious team weakness this summer by bringing in players that could help Casey’s team finish off those defensive stands with the rebound and so far it’s been paying off. The Raptors have gone from 26th in rebounding last year to seventh currently and sport a league best +12.7 rebounding differential. It’s early and this team’s resolve on the boards will be tested during a couple of tough road trips in November, but if it’s real, rebounding effort is something that should travel well.