You underestimated greatly. – Drake
The quote may be short and sweet, but it’s applicable. Plus, you can’t preview a Toronto series without quoting Drake. Ok maybe you can, but it’s less fun. The Raptors and the Wizards are both being overlooked in the Eastern Conference race. It might be for good reason, but either of these teams could be a potentially difficult out for the Hawks in the next round.
John Wall and Bradley Beal combine to form the most exciting young backcourt in the Eastern Conference. Wall is a tremendous ball handler and is downright explosive running the fastbreak. If there is one hole in his game, it’s that he’s not a great three-point shooter. He managed 30% exactly from three this season, but he gets to the rim and creates shots for his teammates to make up for it.
Beal picks up the slack in Wall’s three-point game. Bradley missed 19 games this season due to injury, but shot 40% from deep when he was on the court. It’s also likely that he can keep up that pace, as he is also 40% from three over the course of his three-year NBA career. As for the bench, Ramon Sessions hopefully will not have to be relied on too heavily, but Rasual Butler has actually had a nice season as a reserve wing for the Wiz. He is shooting 38.7% from three this season.
Wall and Beal may be the most exciting young backcourt in the East, but the Kyle Lowry/Demar Derozan duo isn’t too far behind. Granted, at 29, Lowry is pushing the boundaries of what could be considered young for an NBA guard. What isn’t up for debate is that he is one of the best all-around point guards in the conference. Wall is significantly bigger than Lowry, but Lowry is a tenacious defender and one of the best in the league at drawing offensive fouls. A skill that should come in especially handy against a slashing point like Wall.
Derozan is still a poor outside shooter, but he is probably the most underrated scorer in the NBA. He is one of the better two-guards in the game at creating his own shot. The Raps also have above average bench help at guard. Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams could both probably start somewhere, but they are providing better than replacement level bench relief for Toronto and will be key if the Raptors want to make a run.
Edge: Raptors’ Depth
The guard play may steal the spotlight in this match-up, but it’s nearly impossible to win a playoff series without good play from the frontline too. The center matchup in this one is particularly intriguing with Marcin Gortat, a.k.a. the Polish Hammer, going up against Jonas Valanciunas. The numbers for these two guys over the course of the season are nearly indistinguishable. Gortat is a little more seasoned than Valanciunas, which may or may not matter as neither player is teeming with playoff experience. Gortat was on the ’09 Magic team that lost in the Finals, but he only started one game and averaged 11.3 minutes per game in that postseason. That start was also his only postseason start prior to last season. This will be Valanciunas’s second postseason.
As for the other frontcourt players, Paul Pierce’s experience and ability to play the three or the four make him a valuable piece for the Wiz. He also apparently isn’t afraid of any team in the Eastern Conference. Nene is a good low post scorer and rebounder when healthy, but he has been plagued by injuries for the last few years and he missed the last few games of the regular season with an ankle injury. He practiced on Thursday and could potentially play on Saturday. His backup is probably most famous for being the former Mr. Kardashian, and due to that Kris Humphries is actually an underrated rotation big. He’s a capable rim protector and a solid pick-and-roll player. He’s also a threat to knock down mid-range jumpers freeing up some lane space for Wall.
Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross round out the starting frontcourt for the Raptors, and have been fairly pedestrian this season. Ross is a highlight reel dunker and a decent outside shooter, but that’s about it. Outside of dunk contests, he’s been a fairly disappointing player. Amir Johnson actually has potential as an efficient low post scorer and is a phenomenal screen setter, a skill that never ceases to be undervalued. However, he’s merely an average defender. His backup, Patrick Patterson, is actually the superior defender and functionally a stretch four on the offensive end, but he is not as good a rebounder as Johnson, nor is he as good at scoring in the paint.
Full disclosure here, I actually had to look up that Dwane Casey was the head coach of the Raptors. Interesting fact that most of you may or may not know, Casey was actually Randy Wittman’s predecessor in Minnesota. Wittman was on Casey’s staff and took over when Casey was fired. However, since then, Casey has won a ring as an assistant with the Mavs and is doing the better job with his current team.
What an upset might look like
This honestly shapes up to be a pretty tight series. A Wizards series win probably looks something like Beal, Pierce, and Butler shooting well from the outside, and Wall getting the better of Lowry while Gortat outplays Valanciunas.
This will probably not be a popular opinion, but I’m going with the Wizards in 7. I like Pierce as the team chemist and it’s not unreasonable to believe that Wall and Gortat could end up being the better point guard/center combo in the series.