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Potential Free Agent Targets: Small Forwards

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Masai UjiriIt’s clear that there will be some big changes this offseason for the Toronto Raptors. More than likely, the change will start from the small forward spot – a position where the Raptors have struggled to get production.

Thus, we analyze the suitable, viable, and realistic options at the small forward position in free agency for the Raptors.

What we mean by suitable, realistic options, is that the player(s) will provide a skill-set that will either fill the void of players leaving, or provide attributes that the Raptors missed in the season/play-offs. Before we figure out who some suitable options may be for the Raptors, we dig deeper into some of the issues in the team’s roster at the three spot.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

A controversial topic among Raptors fans has been the three spot all season long. Terrence Ross quite frankly has proven so far, that he is not the future of the small forward position, unless his development somehow sky-rockets up (went the opposite direction this season). James Johnson, on the other hand, despite the fan love and team numbers proving his ability to impact on a positive note, has not been an answer for Dwane Casey’s rotation, rather, has sat numerous occasions in Casey’s doghouse.

While both provide some solid skill-sets – James’ paint presence, defence, rebounding, play-making, and Ross’ perimeter shooting, athleticism, and speedy defence – they lack to provide consistency and are terrible in match-up basketball. Both those guys flourish against certain teams, but are also absolute non-factors against others.

2015 Free Agency Small Forward Options:

DeMarre CarrollThe best (viable) option at the small forward position in this years class is DeMarre Carroll, a name that’s been brought up despite the high unlikeness of him leaving Atlanta this off-season after a career year. Caroll provides a large amount of energy and effort, consistently. Along with his bag of energy, he’s one of the league’s premier individual defenders, and is a physical rebounder for his position. He’s also developed a lethal three-point shot, which is almost a necessity in the Raptors’ offence, to give space to guys like DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. What Ross does for the Raptors, Carroll does a step better, and is sustainable.

DENGThe next player on our list, is Luol Deng, who has a player option for the 2015-2016 season. Who knows, whether he opts out after a mediocre season, but he’s a player that fits a role for the Raptors. He provides valuable experience, and his player value is mostly seen in his versatility offensively and his ability to guard multiple positions. From the paint to the perimeter, he can score in a multitude of ways, and doesn’t require the ball 90% of the time; a positive still allowing Lowry/DeRozan to handle the ball. Deng’s all-star years are way behind him now, but if the Raptors decide to throw money at him this off-season, and is successful, they are acquiring a high-calibre role player who is consistent. Key word throughout this piece – consistent.

AMINUThe next player on the list, was a player also on the list of free agent prospects last off-season. Al-Farouq Aminu is a physical bob, with strong defence, rebounding, and with his occasional back-to-the basket. Aminu seems to be a better fit, and seems more realistic than the first two options. He has reportedly set up a meeting with the Raps.

The Raptors lacked a ton of physical toughness in the playoffs in which Aminu would have provided instantly. He’s not a fantastic three-point shooter – mediocre his entire career at an average of 28% –  which might be the biggest downside to having him on the team. Playing him in the starting line-up beside DeRozan/Lowry may result in a clogged paint, which might have to be masked by playing a lot more of Patrick Patterson, or finding another power forward who can stretch the floor.

CROWDERA name that also seems more realistic, is Jae Crowder, who is a restricted free agent of the Boston Celtics. Crowder doesn’t seem to be a part of the Celtics’ future, and with that restricted label, it’s unlikely for the Celtics to match any offer unless it is for a dirt cheap contract. Crowder is another physical defender and rebounder for his position, and has sustainable energy. Now, he’s a bit of a better three-point shooter than Aminu –  a career percentage at approximately 32%. Not a great shooter, but at least will keep the defence honest.

Philadelphia 76ers v Portland Trail BlazersLuc Richard Mbah A Moute, an unrestricted free agent of the Philadelphia 76ers, is also a solid fit, and one who is likely inexpensive, saving some of the Raptors money for the stacked 2016 free agent class. Broken record, but like all the others, physical, lengthy defence, rebounding, and energy. Downside is the mediocre three-point shooting – 31% from three – and struggles at the free-throw line, which may prevent him from closing games, unless offence-to-defence situation.

The final option I would like to throw out there just for fun is Paul Pierce. The notorious Raptor killer opted out of his Wizards contract and is open to signing on for another year. He would certainly solve the Raptors ‘it’ problem, and would honestly be a solid addition that would compliment Ross and Johnson’s inconsistency issues.

Whether the Raptors do decide to make a big change and bring in one of the names stated above is still to be seen. But, if Masai does bring in one of these names, it will be a positive move for the Raptors, as most of these guys are going to be inexpensive, and will provide certain attributes the team seriously missed during their tough stretch in the season, and in the playoffs.

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