The comments from the Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey say the NBA has gone small and his team is going to match, however, one look at the roster President and General Manager Masai Ujiri has put together and one can only conclude the Raptors are built to go big.
Casey provided John Schuhmann a lot of hints recently about where his team was headed.
Casey, “The league is going smaller, but as long as the goal is at 10 feet, size is going to matter. You still got to have size.
At the end of games, the trend is to go smaller. Threes are fours, fours are fives, and your roster has to fit that. Adding DeMarre gives us that flexibility. He can play some at the four, with Scola or Patrick Patterson at the five. We’re better equipped to play that way now than we were a year ago.
The league is going to their more skilled guys toward the end of games. Trends come and go, but right now, we have to participate in that trend.”
Of course a team only has to participate in a trend if they;
A) have to due to a lack of talent to go their own way; or
B) are better equipped to play that way than everybody else – see Golden State Warriors.
If a team has the talent to buck a trend, it can give them a huge advantage – see Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers (and try to stop calling LeBron James “small”). Having a talented big lineup in a league that is going small can be devastating to an opponent without size.
Even as one of the top scoring teams in the NBA last season with the Association’s Sixth Man award winner and a second unit second to none, the Raptors were burned in the postseason because they played with a lack of size.
Schuhmann, “What hurt you offensively in the playoffs?”
Casey, “Physicality and size. We were small with Lou and Kyle on the floor at the same time. Size and length took us out.”
It would be hard to argue with the Raptors coach on that score and it led to an off season of acquiring talent to deal with the problem.
Casey, “It’s going to help us, with the fact that DeMarre Carroll can guard his position. DeMarre gives us some size and physicality at that position and Cory Joseph is a solid defender. He gives us a little juice, a little size, speed and quickness. He comes from a winning program, so his pedigree is good. Biyombo gives us some rim protection behind everybody and Scola gives us a veteran IQ to make plays with the ball, a decent pick-and-roll guy at the four position.”
Toronto’s anticipated 10-man rotation will include (plus likely third string):
PG: Kyle Lowry 6’1, Cory Joseph 6’3, (Delon Wright)
SG: DeMar DeRozan 6’6.5, Terrence Ross 6’7, (Norman Powell)
SF: DeMarre Carroll 6’8, James Johnson 6’8 (Bruno Caboclo)
PF: Luis Scola 6’9, Patrick Patterson 6’9
C: Jonas Valanciunas 7’, Bismack Biyombo 6’9.5, (Lucas Nogueira)
The Raptors can finally feature a traditional five-man starting unit with no player struggling to play out of position and this year Casey will be able to use (if he chooses) a pretty strong five-man second unit without anyone being asked to play out of their natural position as well. There will undoubtedly be more effective five-man units possible depending on the Raptors opponent, but Casey never has to go truly small unless he wants to.
Toronto does have the option to go with a typical small ball lineup with two point guards like Casey has done in the past. Lowry, Joseph, DeRozan, Carroll, and either Patterson or Scola at center and by opting for Scola, at least this unit would still have one strong rebounding big man on the court. It’s a group we’ll likely see early in the season as it should be able to put up points, defend well and be very tough to guard. The only concern would be the lack of rebounding – like what happened a lot last season – if Carroll and Patterson are the two big men on the court.
However, a more interesting and potentially mind-boggling option for the Raptors opponents would be to go bigger and play the same way. Carroll has combo forward size, three-point shooting and is a superior defender. Patterson has three-point range and is a superior perimeter defender for a power forward. Scola is a crafty veteran on offense and defense and is one of the league’s top rebounders. Biyombo is a mobile big man who is a superior rim protector and rebounder. Valanciunas can rebound and score in the post and he’s working on expanding his game this summer so he doesn’t get left behind.
“I was working on my quickness, bringing my game to be like a power forward – not like a slow center,” Valanciunas said recently in Las Vegas. “I am trying to increase my speed and my ability to shoot a mid-range shot. To be like a quicker guy.”
To put up points fast and spread the floor with shooters, Casey can go with a lineup of:
Lowry, DeRozan, Carroll, Patterson and Scola. Now that’s a lineup with size, smarts and no player an opponent can cheat off on defense.
To get smothering defense, rebounding and rim protection against a small lineup:
Lowry, Joseph, Carroll, Patterson and Biyombo provide five very mobile defenders and more than enough size intimidation between Carroll, Patterson and Biyombo to make other teams wonder just how long they can stay small.
With the options Casey will have at his disposal, Valanciunas needs to expand his game quickly or even those few fourth quarter minutes he has been getting won’t be there anymore. Valanciunas can’t afford to be the self-described “slow center” if he wants to be the mobile big man that can defend against the NBA’s small lineups at the end of games.
Ujiri has gone out and obtained some tough-nosed blue collar players for Casey and now it’s up to the coach to get the most out of guys who play the way he likes to see it done. In Toronto this season it should be a case of opponents going small against mobile big men that can keep up. This new version of Raptors small ball should look a lot bigger.
“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.”