After the 2016 Draft, the Toronto Raptors still don’t have an answer for their missing piece at the power forward position. Instead, they now have three centres that are able to contribute.
With the 27th pick they did select power forward Pascal Siakam, who is still a couple years away from filling that void on a team looking to make the NBA Finals. Earlier in the draft the Raptors selected Jakob Poeltl with the 9th pick, a solid 7-foot-1 centre that has the athleticism, court awareness and strength to make an impact in today’s NBA.
Poeltl shows a solid up-side, and is a couple years away from being able to contribute at the level of Jonas Valanciunas. While the Raptors’ starting centre did show potential throughout his first four seasons, his impact on the court is replaceable. Of course he won’t be replaced by Poeltl just yet, but there is free agent Bismack Biyombo.
When Valanciunas went out in Game 3 against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals, the Raptors showed that they can still compete at the same level with Biyombo. In four of the next 10 games, Biyombo played over 35 minutes- resulting in four wins, two against the Heat and the other two coming against the NBA Champions.
Biyombo’s will on the boards was spectacular to watch, especially in Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Experts gave Toronto their best chance to win a game in Game 3, because they were at home and perhaps Valanciunas would be able to play. Instead, Biyombo rose to the occasion and set a Raptors franchise record with 26 rebounds- earning the Raptors their first win in a Conference Finals.
Game 3 wasn’t the first time Biyombo impressed Toronto and the NBA, making his free agency a tough decision for the Raptors. While Biyombo said that “it’s for fun, not money,” the reality is that the Raptors, like every other team, have to balance their budget.
Losing Biyombo would hurt the Raptors, especially considering what his defence meant to the team. Acquiring Biyombo, and other defensive players such as DeMarre Carroll, helped the Raptors transform into the 11th best defensive team in the league. Which was a huge improvement from being 23rd in the NBA throughout the 2014-15 season.
The difference is noticed when Biyombo is off the court, since the Raptors allow their opponents to score 3.9 more points per 100 possessions, compared to when he’s on the court. The opposite happens when Valanciunas sits on the bench, with the Raptors holding their opponents to 5.5 less points per 100 possessions.
Valanciunas’ Offence Is a Lost Art
If there is anything that Valanciunas has over Biyombo, it has to be his offensive game. Valanciunas is a productive center, but rarely asks for the ball. In his 12 playoff games this year, he had seven games in which he attempted less than 10 field goal attempts. You can always blame coaching for not getting him the ball, but it’s the direction the NBA is moving towards.
This year the NBA only had 10 centres to average over 10 field goal attempts a game: Nikola Vucevic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Marcin Gortat, Greg Monroe, Al Jefferson, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Jahlil Okafor, Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol. All 10 big men are on teams that are miles away from competing for a Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Instead, defensive centres are at the top of the best NBA teams, such as Andrew Bogut on the Golden State Warriors, Steven Adams on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Tim Duncan on the San Antonio Spurs, Hassan Whiteside on the Miami Heat, and DeAndre Jordan on the Los Angeles Clippers.
It’s true that defence ultimately wins championships, and that doesn’t seem possible with Valanciunas. The 7-foot Lithuanian will start the first year of his contract extension next season, with him making $64 million over the next four years.
Valanciunas will be making over $14 million, an amount that seems ideal for someone that is willing to take a “home town discount.”
Fill the Void: Al Horford
At the moment, Patrick Patterson is the only power forward on the Raptors’ roster that has played a single minute of NBA basketball. While he is an effective player, his best work comes off the bench- where he seems to be more comfortable.
Last season, the Raptors relied on Luis Scola, but it is unlikely Masai Ujiri will be bringing back the 36-year-old Argentinian for another crack at a starter’s role.
Instead, Al Horford seems like a perfect fit at the power forward position for the Toronto Raptors- but he will come with a big price tag. A four-time All-Star, Horford has made his living in the NBA for being a versatile big man that can score down low and still make jump shots.
Last season, Horford attempted 236 3-point attempts, more than he did in his eight seasons prior. At 6-foot-10 and 245 pounds, Horford has the frame and agility to play the power forward position- which was obvious after he won two national championships with the Florida Gators. A team that also included an intense defensive big man, Joakim Noah.
The Raptors would be able to do a sign and trade for Horford, giving up Valanciunas to the Hawks. But as an unrestricted free agent, Ujiri would be able to go after Horford regardless, and try another deal to strengthen the Raptors’ rotation.
As said before, teams need to balance their cap, making it important that the Raptors are able to find the right combination for their front court.
You can follow Bryan Meler on Twitter @BryanMelo97
All stats for this article are from Baskeball-Reference.com and NBA.com