Raptors Cage

The Raptors top rivals for the 2020-2021 season

The Toronto Raptors have been one of the best teams in the NBA over the past seven seasons. During this time, they have a Win/Loss record of 374-190 (66.3%) which ranks second in the NBA behind only the Golden State Warriors. Additionally, they have seven consecutive playoff berths behind just the Houston Rockets, who have … Read more

Everything you need to know about Jalen Harris

The long-awaited 2020 NBA Draft has finally come and gone. The Minnesota Timberwolves took another high-risk, high-reward project by selecting Anthony Edwards with the first overall pick. The Golden State Warriors – after weeks of leading rival teams to believe that they might take Deni Avdija, or another lower-ranked prospect – decided to draft James … Read more

Ranking Kyle Lowry among the NBA’s best point guards

The last two seasons have done wonders for Kyle Lowry’s reputation. Early in his career, he was viewed as a role player with a bad attitude. During his tenure with the Toronto Raptors from 2012-2018, he was a four time All-Star and was the best player on a team that was consistently winning 50 plus games. Still, he was extremely undervalued by the media and fans. He was perceived by many as the sidekick to DeMar DeRozan and many people questioned his All-Star status as a player in the much weaker Eastern Conference. Now, Lowry is viewed by most as an elite point guard, a leader, and a champion. Of course, he still has more than his fair share of haters.

Any true Raptors fan knows that Lowry has always been the best player on the team (minus the one season of Kawhi Leonard). It was never DeMar, we all know that. Pascal Siakam was amazing last year and it could be debated who was the best player, but we saw in The Playoffs that it’s still Lowry’s team. Everything runs through Lowry. He makes every little play, makes his teammates better, and drives winning like few players in the entire league. At the age of 34, he put up 19.4 points per game, 7.5 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. Most impressively, he averaged 36.2 minutes per night while sacrificing his body on the defensive end, taking charges from players twice his size. 

 (Photo: Chris Young/CP)

Theoretically, at the age of 34, Lowry could be due to slow down. We saw Lowry play some amazing basketball just two months ago. Additionally, we have at least three years of experience hearing the same narrative that Lowry will take a step back soon. It’s fair to give him the benefit of the doubt at this point, he deserves a break. It will happen eventually, but who knows when. 

For the sake of this evaluation, I will only compare Lowry to other true point guards. I get it, Lebron is the main initiator for Los Angeles. Same with Doncic for Dallas, Harden for Houston, and Simmons for Philadelphia. These players are of a different nature and do not profile as traditional point guards, so they will be excluded. Harden is the most similar, but he is still an unique case. John Wall will be left out as he is coming back from a lengthy injury, and impossible to evaluate. Furthermore, age and contract will not factor into these rankings. Lowry is less valuable then many young point guards as his time is limited, but that is not the point in this evaluation.

The ‘not even close’ group

Spencer Dinwiddie – Brooklyn Nets

Devonte’ Graham – Charlotte Hornets

Eric Bledsoe – New Orleans Pelicans

Dennis Schroder – Los Angeles Lakers

Goran Dragic – Miami Heat/UFA

Mike Conley – Utah Jazz

There is no point in going over point guards below this class (i.e Collin Sexton, Terry Rozier, Lonzo Ball) because no one in their right mind would rank them with Lowry. This group consists of solid players that have seen varying amounts of success. 

As for these players, Mike Conley definitely used to be in Lowry’s class during his prime. The debate about who has had a better career could be somewhat reasonable, but right now Lowry is clearly better. Eric Bledsoe is a solid guard, but look at the price that Milwaukee paid to upgrade him. It would be hard to debate that he is better than Lowry. Goran Dragic played really nice in the bubble, but still he belongs in this group. Schroder, Graham, and Dinwiddie all had nice seasons with impressive numbers, but they aren’t elite point guards by any means.

The “borderline All-Star” group

Zach LaVine – Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose – Detroit Pistons

Malcom Brogdon – Indiana Pacers

Ja Morant – Memphis Grizzlies

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Oklahoma City Thunder

Fred VanVleet – Toronto Raptors/UFA

De’Aaron Fox – Sacramento Kings

This group contains some more interesting names. You have a couple of younger players with upside in LaVine, Fox, and Morant. Lavine put up over 25 points per game last season, and was by far the Bulls best player. He still has some holes in his game and can easily be viewed as a guy who puts up big numbers on a bad team. Fox is a guard who showed tremendous improvements in his second year, but faltered a bit last season. His athleticism is impressive and if he continues to grow he could be a top level point guard in the league someday. SGA had a very nice season with the Thunder, and figures to take the main role in OKC now that Chris Paul was traded to the Phoenix Suns.

Ja Morant might get the most debate here. He had a great season winning Rookie of the Year, and almost leading the Memphis Grizzlies to the playoffs. He appears to drive winning, but still needs to take the next step to get into the class of elite guards – which could easily happen this year. Of all of the players in this group, Morant would be most likely to surpass Lowry sooner than later.

 (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Malcolm Brogdon, and Fred VanVleet are fairly comparable cases. The both play a lot off-ball, but still profile much like a point guard. Both of them have likely reached their ceiling as players (or close to it) and would cap out as third or fourth options on championship level teams. Derrick Rose at his peak was arguably the best point guard in the league. He was able to rediscover his game last year in Detroit, but his injuries are too much for him to likely ever be that same superstar he once was. 

The ‘definitely better than Lowry” group

Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers

Kyrie Irving – Brooklyn Nets

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Based on the exclusions from my evaluation, this is a very short list. I don’t need to waste time explaining how Steph and Dame are better than Lowry, as they are clearly true superstar talents. I will admit, I am not a huge fan of Kyrie Irving. He has proven to be incapable of winning a championship as the best player and leader of a team. Despite this, his talent is too much to not be above the Lowry group. Kyrie is still in his prime and will fit nicely as a second option behind Kevin Durant in Brooklyn. 

The ‘Lowry’ Group

Trae Young – Atlanta Hawks

Kemba Walker – Boston Celtics

Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets

Russell Westbrook – Houston Rockets

Jrue Holiday – Milwaukee Bucks

Chris Paul – Phoenix Suns

Here we are. The list of point guards in Kyle’s weight class (figuratively). We see these lists all the time, and usually they don’t go very well for Lowry. Luckily, this is a Raptors-friendly post so I predict a more fair outcome for Lowry. I will go through these players one-by-one to see where Lowry will land. To be fair, it’s very close for all of them. 

(Photo: Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)

To me, the weakest in this group is Trae Young. While he puts up seriously impressive offensive numbers, his defense is abysmal. Among 95 qualifying guards, Trae Young ranks dead last with a -6.17 defensive real plus minus. That cannot be overlooked. Based on offensive talent, Trae belongs in the top five. His defense is just too bad, and it showed in the Hawks 20-47 record.

The next best point guard is Jamal Murray. This may be a bit of an overreaction to his performance in the bubble, but man was he ever impressive. The way that Murray was playing looked like a legitimate MVP caliber player. Even his numbers before the bubble are nothing to scoff at. If Murray can continue to play at the level he showed in Orlando, he could be in that top group real quick. Murray has already shown capable of being a very good point guard on a 50 win team, and that has value to me.

Next, I have Russell Westbrook. This may come as a surprise, but Westbrook is not the player that he once was. He can still score, he can find open shooters, but he creates so many problems on offence for his team, just like how we saw in The Playoffs this year when Westbrook was dared to shoot threes by his opponents. In his career, Westbrook shoots under 31% from deep on less than four attempts per game. The other areas of his game are still extremely good, but they do not compensate enough for his lack of shooting.

Kemba Walker is next in line. He is an elite passer, ball handler, and shooter. What more could you ask for in a point guard? He can create his own shots, score in the clutch, and get to the rim fairly well. Kemba has one main issue holding him back, and it’s his size. His size creates many problems for him on the defensive end, with a -1.20 defensive real plus minus. Additionally, he can struggle offensively at times when his shot is not falling and he has a tendency to over-shoot and dribble at times.

Like Westbrook, this is a bit of a bold pick. Jrue Holiday, to me, is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. It can easily be argued that he is not a traditional point guard, but Milwaukee surely acquired him to fill this role after trading their two point guards to acquire him. Jrue is an elite playmaker, he can guard bigger and smaller players, as well as being a bit of scoring threat himself. It pains me to say it, but Milwaukee added a great piece – albeit for a massive price.

This is where I put Kyle Lowry. I get it, Raptors bias likely comes into play here. Every Raptors fan is higher on Lowry than most. However, there is a reason that we all adore this man. Lowry is an elite passer, an elite defender, and one of the best floor generals in the league. Kyle has proven time and time again that you can play him with any four players, and he will make the lineup look good. If you need evidence, watch Kyle lead the Raptors to a 30 point comeback with a bunch of third stringers. 

How many other point guards are the most important player on a team that wins 50 plus games a season, and has won at least one playoff series for five straight years? No one. Lowry drives winning like few players can, and he deserves the respect that Raptor fans give him. His individual talent does not compare with other stars in the league, but basketball is a team game. Kyle plays with a team better than almost any player in the league.

69th NBA All-Star Game(Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

I still rank Chris Paul just slightly ahead of Lowry. In his prime, Paul made a name for himself as one of the best point guards of all-time. His demise has been greatly over-exaggerated, as seen with him leading the Thunder to a fifth seed this season. Paul has a lot of the Kyle Lowry qualities that Raptors fans know and love. He makes teammates better, leads on the defensive end, and makes all of the little plays. The Phoenix Suns will undoubtedly win more games this season with Chris Paul as their new floor general and leader. He drives winning, and despite having no rings, will raise the ceiling for his new team. Are the Suns legit contenders? Probably not. They will definitely be interesting to watch this year though, and could win a round or two.

Kyle Lowry is the fifth best point guard in the NBA

Lowry is 34 going on 35, and could likely show his age at any point. This is not a projection based on potential improvement, or vice versa, but an evaluation on who has shown to be the best point guard in the NBA. Kyle Lowry’s been an All-Star for six straight years. He should have made either an All-Defense or All-NBA team this year, as well. Let’s sit back, relax, and watch Lowry be an All-Star selection for the seventh time, to prove everyone wrong again.

Raptors select Malachi Flynn with the 29th overall pick

The Toronto Raptors have made their first roster addition in what projects to be a hectic couple of weeks ahead. With the 29th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors have selected Malachi Flynn out of San Diego State. After playing his first two college seasons with Washington State, Flynn subsequently transferred … Read more

Expect Matt Thomas to be a contributor this season

Matt Thomas is becoming one of the most sure things for the 2020-2021 Toronto Raptors backcourt. We’ve heard some Kyle Lowry trade rumours, some Norman Powell trade rumours,  and rumours of Fred Vanvleet walking. Terence Davis is likely not starting the season with the team. Patrick McCaw will return if he can get healthy. The … Read more

How the Raptors can pre-build a contender around Giannis

If you haven’t already heard, the Toronto Raptors are on the list of teams pursuing the reigning back-to-back Most Valuable Player. Of course they are. Any team would love to add Giannis Antetokounmpo to their roster. It has been made very clear that they are using this Free Agency period to prepare for the chance to sign Giannis next summer. Who knows exactly how likely their chances are of landing him and there is no way to know until he signs his next contract, whether in Milwaukee or elsewhere. Raptors fans will salivate at the prospect of acquiring Giannis until the day (if) he signs a super max with the Bucks, but we must remember that he is just a piece of the puzzle and not the whole thing. An extremely important piece, of course.5 Reasons Why Giannis Antetokounmpo Should Sign With The Toronto Raptors – Fadeaway World

5 Reasons Why Giannis Antetokounmpo Should Sign With The Toronto Raptors

We know that Giannis is one of the best players in the game today, but he alone cannot win an NBA championship (which is the case for most any Superstar in league history). Sure Kawhi Leonard was the key for the Raptors 2019 championship run, but the rest of the team around him was equally necessary. Leonard is already calling for change to the Los Angeles Clippers roster after a second round exit in year one with his new team. Look at Steph Curry, a three time NBA champion, he could not win without Kevin Durant and a hobbled Klay Thompson in 2019. We know that Lebron James has infamously had rosters overhauled to create a champion. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, have gone their whole careers unable to find that perfect formula to win it all. Its not an easy task.

We’ve seen what the Bucks have tried in Milwaukee with Giannis. The results have not been abysmal – however, they have not won the ultimate prize. The 2019-2020 Raptors were a team constructed around Leonard… minus Leonard. They can replace that superstar void with Giannis,but he has different needs than Kawhi did. So how exactly should the Raptors look by the start of the 2021-2022 season, assuming they can land Giannis Antetokounmpo? Well they have options.

The Starting Front-court

In Milwaukee, Giannis has been paired with a Center in Brook Lopez. He served as a solid option as a good rim protector and stretch big. His other front court partner, Khris Middleton, is an elite shooter and solid wing defender. The Raptors have a chance to become a revolutionary front court with Giannis in the mix. Imagine an OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Giannis front-court. Sure you don’t have a traditional centre in this lineup, but you have three players who can switch on to any defensive matchup. How nice would that have been during last postseason after watching Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka get cooked when switched onto Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. Not only is this trio extremely versatile, they might be three of the top 10-20 defenders in the entire NBA at any position. Any one of them can fill in as a centre on defence and provide floor spacing on offence better than most other centres.

Raptors blog: Anunoby thrives one night, struggles the next but looks good at guard | Basketball | Sports | The Telegram

Photo from – Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The only other Raptors currently with the team who are candidates for a position here are Gasol and Ibaka. It is unlikely that Gasol will return this season (never mind next) and even if he does he is already showing signs of his age. Ibaka could be an option if OG is moved to the shooting guard, but that would really crowd the rim with a Siakam-Giannis-Ibaka trio who aren’t elite shooters. I like the idea of Ibaka being a sixth or seventh man, but he may be priced out of the team.

The Raptors could look to move Siakam or OG for a back court player such as Bradley Beal, or Jrue Holiday. This is intriguing, but unlikely. If they were to move OG, they could look for help elsewhere in 10-12 million dollar options like Christian Wood, Richaun Holmes, or acquire a player like Jarrett Allen in a trade. Myles Turner could be an option as he is rumoured to be moving on from the Indiana Pacers. He would likely cost them either OG, or a sign and trade involving Fred VanVleet.

The Starting Backcourt

The main question for the Raptors before this season begins is if they can bring back Fred VanVleet, who is currently an Unrestricted Free Agent – and looking to get paid. Fred is an elite shooter from distance, as well as an elite defender. He can guard shifty point guards (like Kemba Walker, or Steph Curry) better than almost anyone in the league. Further, Fred is a good passer and an adequate floor general. He likely cannot be the primary ball handler on a championship-level team and benefits from spending time playing off ball to get open looks. He profiles similar to a former teammate of Giannis, in Malcolm Brogdon, who fit very well with Giannis. If they can keep Fred in that 18-22 million dollar per year contract, he figures to be a good third or fourth option on a team with Giannis.

Next, we have our beloved Kyle Lowry. Kyle signed a one year extension before last season that keeps him with the Raptors until next summer. This is a tricky one. Lowry would surely be a compliment for Giannis, but how much can we expect from a 35 year old point guard? Last season he was arguably the best player on the team. This season he needs to be just as good if the Raptors want to hang with the top dogs in the Eastern Conference. To me, the answer is easy: never give up on Kyle Lowry. Barring a complete fall off this season it would be wise to keep Lowry’s leadership and talents into the Giannis era if he can be afforded alongside the rest of the younger core.

The Raptors should consider splitting Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet

@NBA Canada/Twitter

Norman Powell is a potential in-house candidate if Kyle leaves for a starting backcourt position alongside Fred. Personally, I don’t love the fit. Norm isn’t a good enough passer or floor general to work with Freds inefficiencies in running an offence. For the same reason, I don’t believe that moving OG to the backcourt and going with a really big lineup would be the solution either. Norm could be a valuable bench piece for this team as a scoring option, but there is a good chance that they will have to move on from him to clear space for Giannis with Fred, OG, and Kyle needing new contracts as well.

If the Raptors are to lose Kyle or Fred (or both but let’s hope not) they should look elsewhere to fill the void. Victor Oladipo will be a Free Agent and has been linked to the Raptors. Injuries are a concern with Oladipo, and who knows what his price range will be on a new contract. Caris LeVert would be an intriguing option to replace Fred if he is to walk the summer. He will likely cost a decent price in a trade, but he has shown flashes of brilliance as a ball handler and playmaker with the Brooklyn Nets. Evan Fournier will be a UFA next summer and could be a cheaper solution than the above mentioned, which would leave some cap space for the bench. He is a decent playmaker, a good shooter, and a somewhat capable ball handler that can be a high-end 5th starter. A VanVleet-Fournier backcourt isn’t ideal, but could be a solid backup plan. The options are thin and unless an unlikely candidate emerges for this position I would take an ageing Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet over any other option.

The Bench

Depending on how the starters are shaped the bench can take many different variations. If the Raptors are loading up with the Starters, the bench will have to be full of affordable players. As much as I love Norm and Serge, I find it unlikely that they will be able to be a part of the team due to cap restrictions. Additionally, It seems unlikely that Terance Davis will be around as he deals with off-court issues. Matt Thomas grew a lot as the season went on, and would be an awesome threat off the bench mixed into lineups with starters to throw different looks at opponents. Pat McCaw still exists and could figure into the deep bench. Others such as: Oshae Brissett, Paul Watson Jr, Chris Boucher, Dewan Hernandez, and Stanley Johnson could fit into the equation if they show growth with the Raptors this season.

Of course, the Toronto Raptors have two drafts before the 2021-2022 season that could see them land players to fill the bench on cheap contracts. Ideally, whomever they draft with the 29th pick next week will be a third point guard behind Fred and Kyle, or a second string big off of the bench as a 7th-9th man. This could be Theo Maldeon, Malachi Flynn, Xavier Tillman, among others that could be a contributor with this Raptors Lineup.

As for players that could be targeted by the Raptors from elsewhere, there are options. One option that I believe would be a fantastic bench fit is former Raptor Delon Wright. He is long, a solid defender, as well as a good playmaker that would allow the Raptors to mix in different looks than the undersized Fred and Kyle point guard lineups. He is under contract for two more years but could be acquired for a reasonable price. If they go with the no true centre lineup, it would be important to have a good one coming off the bench. Tristan Thompson, Aron Baynes, or Daniel Theis all would be players who would be strong off the bench, a reasonable price, and capable of starting when other players are injured.

Three different Top-10 Player rotation options

The Toronto Raptors have plenty of flexibility for a Giannis led team. They are a team with plenty of versatility and are ready to add a Superstar. Masai and company will have many options moving forward. Here are my three favourite options for a primary 10 player Raptors rotation for the 2021-2022 season, assuming they land their prized target Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of course, variations of these could be achieved as well.

Option 1 – Familiar Faces

– Keep the pick this year and draft a big.
– Trade Powell for Delon Wright and a 2nd round pick
– Sign Thompson for the Mid-Level (Serge would be priority one but is likely priced out)

PG – Kyle Lowry
SG – Fred VanVleet
SF – OG Anunoby
PF – Pascal Siakam
C – Giannis Antetokounmpo
BENCH – Delon Wright
BENCH – Matt Thomas
BENCH – Tristan Thompson or Serge Ibaka
BENCH – Paul Watson Jr

BENCH – Xavier Tillman

 

Option 2 – Trade the vets

– Trade Kyle and Serge to acquire LeVert and Allen.
– Draft a guard.
– Trade Norm for Fournier to add playmaking (could also just stick with Norm).

PG – Fred VanVleet
SG – Caris LeVert
SF -OG Anunoby
PF -Pascal Siakam
C -Giannis Antetokounmpo
BENCH – Jarrett Allen
BENCH -Evan Fournier or Norman Powell
BENCH -Theo Maledon
BENCH -Paul Watson Jr
BENCH -Chris Boucher

Option 3 – Fred leaves, let’s get crazy

– Sign and trade Fred to the Pacers for Myles Turner.
– Trade OG to the Pelicans with picks to acquire Jrue Holiday.
– Keep Norm, we have enough playmaking with Lowry and Jrue.
– Sign Baynes (Maybe Thompson or Theis instead). Ibaka will be priced out.

PG – Kyle Lowry
SG – Jrue Holiday
SF – Pascal Siakam
PF – Giannis Antetokounmpo
C – Myles Turner
BENCH – Norman Powell
BENCH – Aron Baynes
BENCH – Matt Thomas
BENCH – Paul Watson Jr
BENCH – Chris Boucher

Patrick Mahomes wants the Raptors to play in Kansas City

Last week, a flurry of reports came from Shams Charania of The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN regarding the start of the 2020-2021 NBA season, where the teams would be playing their games, and what the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement may look like. In a nutshell, the NBA is targeting a 72-game season … Read more

Orlando’s mental toughness requirement favours the Raptors

Basketball this year isn’t going to be the same. Around ten games have been sliced off the end of the regular season calendar for the top 22 teams in the league, while the bottom 8 squads have been dismissed for golf season and won’t play an NBA game until December. There have been major alterations … Read more

Raptors Cage’s Non-Lottery Fantasy Draft

Last week, Raptors Cage took our own shot at drafting two 15-man rosters, with a $100M salary cap, using all current players’ contracts from the 2019-2020 season. One busy week of NBA news and rumours later, we decided to take our jab at another fantasy draft – this time, with no salary restriction, but one … Read more