With the NBA off-season nearing its end, the Toronto Raptors roster is pretty much summed up, with Masai Ujiri making the last couple deals by signing younger players to fill out the training camp roster. From the acquisitions Ujiri made, the Raptors’ roster has now been shaped differently. Along with the starting line-up, there’s additional bench depth with a new dynamic coming off the pine.
From the new six players acquired, we’ll analyze the Raptors’ depth, and roster versatility.
The defensive players acquired are some of the best in the league, but what’s very impressive, is the versatility and their abilities to play multiple positions. Drafting Delon Wright, and signing DeMarre Carroll, Ujiri made his desire clear to get back to that end of the floor.
Wright, Caroll, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo, and even Norman Powell (if he plays any meaningful minutes this season) are all able to play a minimum of two positions. Wright and Joseph are both natural point guards, but their defensive ability, and today’s game going small, they are very much capable of playing alongside another point guard. With Kyle Lowry, there are going to be many instances where we will see two point guards on the floor; which is more ideal in comparison to Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez last season, who weren’t very good defensive players.
The wing position is where the Raptors’ versatility will stand out in comparison to other teams. Carroll has the defensive prowess, awareness and can play from the two-guard to the power forward position. Carroll already is one of the major positives for the Raptors’ versatility, especially when it comes to playing teams like the Atlanta Hawks, the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, etc; all teams who maximize the best small-ball line-ups. Aside from Caroll, Terrence Ross, who’s already had major exposure to playing the out-of-position at the 3, is also capable, proven with his last couple seasons with the Raptors. DeMar DeRozan, who’s played some at the 3 position, is also very capable of filling in certain situations, however, unlike the first two guys mentioned, not the most adept on-ball defender, but one of the best at his position in getting in between passing lanes.
The most intriguing of the wings, though, is James Johnson. After seeing incredibly inconsistent playing time, in the instances where he played major minutes and shared a large roll – he was impressive. Especially due to his defensive abilities. Re-collecting from this past season in a game against the Spurs at home – he was a major catalyst in the win – showed off impressive all-around defensive talent, from guarding Kawhi Leonard, to Manu Ginobili, and switched off to Tony Parker on occasion. JJ’s solid defensive awareness, aggressive on-ball defence, adept interception of passes, but most importantly, size and shot-blocking ability makes him an even better candidate to be a small-ball four in comparison to Carroll. JJ’s size allows to match-up with the true fours, like a Zach Randolph, but his athleticism allows him to guard, and even lock-down guards and the quick forwards in the league.
Lastly, the Raptors’ bigs are very versatile – aside from Jonas Valanciunas, who’s a traditional centre.
Patrick Patterson is the first name that comes up, especially when discussing floor-spacing and small ball. When opposing teams decide to go small-ball, or stick with the traditional line-up, the Raptors have the ability, to, well, do nothing, but leave Patterson on the floor.
Patterson has power forward size at 6’10, and has put on quite the bulk in the last season or so. PatPat has become one of the team’s best post-defenders, a very average to solid rebounder, and because of his traditional four-man size, the Raptors lose little defensively. When opposing teams decide to go small, Patterson is still ideal in that style of play.
Patterson, offensively, is one of the league’s best at spacing the floor for his position, and very efficient in the pick-&-pop situations. He will have to force those big guys to push away from the their comfortable position in defending the paint, but when the smaller, quicker forwards are defending on the perimeter, they will find themselves having to guard in pick-&-roll/pop situations.
Another name which will prove big time, especially against traditional line-ups, is the newly acquired centre/forward Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo is an athletic, strong, bulky, defensive big man, who is terrific at finishing at the rim. Biyombo is somewhat undersized for a centre, standing 6’9, but gives up little with his body composure. Biyombo will have the ability to play either the 4 or 5, mainly because his athleticism allows him too. Any time Biyombo will see at the 4, will likely be against teams who run the traditional two-big-men line-ups.
Offensively, the Raptors have a ton of options, which starts with DeRozan, who offensively has made major strides. In the training camp with Team USA, he acted mainly as a primary ball-handler, and at times, as the point guard. DeRozan’s ability to space the floor and post-up give him quite the arsenal against whatever the defenders throw at him. Aside from DeRozan, who is the main option offensively, the Raptors have a ton of floor spacers with Ross, Caroll, Patterson, Lowry, CoJo, etc. which will allow tons of driving room, and post-up space, mainly for Jonas, and Luis Scola.
The main thing to take away from the Raptors’ new-look, is their ability to throw out a line-up that’ll specifically address a need on one end, without losing much on the other. For example, offensively, if they’re looking to spread the floor:
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Terrence Ross
PF: DeMarre Caroll
C: Patrick Patterson
This line-up would provide major floor spacing, and would be super beneficial when it comes to small ball match-ups. With a 4 out, 1 in style of play, having DeRozan act as the inside presence, creates a dynamic in which the opposition must be weary of their defender. Expect a ton of single coverage, in which teams will not be able to collapse in the paint, nor over-aggressively pressure the perimeter considering Lowry/DeRozan’s abilities to get to the trim.
If looking to match-up against a team’s size defensively, the Raptors can throw out the following line-up:
PG: Cory Joseph
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: DeMarre Caroll
PF: Bismack Biyombo
C: Jonas Valanciunas
The size on this line-up will allow the team to match-up eye to eye, whilst not totally leaving the offence threat-less. Valanciunas becomes the option in the post, DeRozan likely off play-calls, maximizing the screen setting of the bigs, and the shooters in Joseph and Carroll on the perimeter.
Overall, the Raptors have some of the best versatility as a complete roster. What’s impressive, is their ability to improve upon one side of the court, without having to downgrade on the other side of court. Dwane Casey and the coaching staff will have a ton of options, however, it’s mainly up to him to be able to maximize the full potential of his roster. With the proper personnel at his disposal, he must be able to find the right mix for each particular situation. Casey has so far proven that he hasn’t been able to create the right line-up; hopefully this time around, with the new players acquired – players that share the same mindset as Casey (defensive) – he’ll be able to make use of each and everyone of their talents.