Raptors Cage

Raptors’ Second Line Will Continue To Impress

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cory joseph

Throughout the course of the 2014-15 season, fans were able to grow to love the Toronto Raptors most featured line-up consisting of: Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson, and Tyler Hansborough. They appeared in 39 games together, while posting the teams most reliable defensive efficiency rating of 96.8 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com

Coming into the 2015-16 season, Raptor’s GM Masai Ujiri can be confident that even though both “Sweet Lou and Psycho T” left in free agency, his off-season moves will have a positive impact on the Raptors’ second-line for the season to come.

The Guards

At the 2015 NBA Draft, Masai Ujiri improved Dwane Casey‘s back court options by drafting two guards that uniquely play their respective positions, and in time could become the Raptors’ most imposing duo of combo-guards.

With the 20th pick in the Draft, Masai Ujiri selected Delon Wright, who as a senior in Utah won the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s best point guard. At 6 feet, 5 inches, Delon Wright earned a spot on both the first-team All-Pac-12 and All-Pac-12 Defensive Team, due to his ability to be a terror on the defensive end in both iso-situations and pick-and-rolls. Wright’s defensive prowess will be an upgrade over the older and shorter Kyle Lowry, especially against the Eastern Conference‘s group of elite offensive point guards like Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Jeff Teague, and Goran Dragić.

At the offensive end, Wright is still a threat as a playmaker, due to his ability to look over defences to find passing lanes for cutters, while still remaining a reliable shooting option. His accuracy of 50.9 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from deep forces defenders to press up on him, allowing him to also create off the dribble with his speed.  As a junior during the 2013-14 season, he even led the Pac-12 in 2FG%, shooting 63.3 percent from inside the arc.

To join him the back-court, with the 46th pick, Masai selected shooting guard Norman Powell, who would earn a spot on the All-NBA Summer League 2015 First Team. To acquire the pick, Masai Ujiri traded Greivis Vasquez and the 6.6 million he was owed next season, to the Milwaukee Bucks for the 46th pick in the Draft along with a 2017 Los Angeles Clippers first round pick.

At 6,4 ft with a 6,11 ft wingspan, Powell graduated from UCLA as a senior well-known for his role as a leader, powering offensive efficiency, and intimating defence. He’s an athletic combo-guard that loves to play inside the arc; thriving with an explosive 40.5 inch max-vertical, while shooting the two-ball with a 50.2 percent accuracy, according to DraftExpress.com. A nice NBA player comparison is Dwyane Wade, who as well found a lot of his offence from his ability to attack the rim, and by using his crafty mid-range game instead of the three-ball.

Without any NBA experience between the two rooks, which will result in reduced playing time to start, the Raptors front office understood the importance of finding an NBA tested backup point guard to run the show when Lowry’s on the bench.

In adding Cory Joseph to the roster, Masai Ujiri was finally able to bring home a Canadian to fill in the point-guard position on the second line. Ujiri signed Cory Joseph to a 4-year, $30 million contract to play the same role he was comfortable playing for the San Antonio Spurs while Patti Mills was out to start the 2014-15 season. His performance allowed him to play in 79 games, averaging career bests in points, assists, rebounds, and field goal percentage.

After spending four full seasons under Greg Popovich, Coach Casey should be able to rely on Cory Joseph’s instincts to balance Toronto’s offensive attack, while helping his back-court rooks adjust to the speed of an NBA game.

The Forwards

The Raptors’ small forward position will be filled with two recognizable faces in James Johnson and Terrence Ross. The former won’t receive major minutes this year, but his defensive ability near the rim will allow the Raptors to use his skill set as an option at the four-spot come time for a small-ball line-up. Last season, Johnson held his defenders to a 3.9 lower field goal percentage that their average when 6 feet or less from the rim, while providing his fair share on the glass with 6.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. His reputation for his continuous display of tenacity, grit and enthusiasm, is also essential for any smaller player that is willing to match-up down-low with the NBA’s bigs.

Johnson’s lack of three-point shooting, being only a 25.8 percent career three-point shooter, will hopefully be made up for by Terrence Ross’ streaky 37.2 percent three-point clip from the field. After being replaced by DeMarre Caroll in the starting line-up, Ross will have the opportunity to play the majority of the Raptors small forward minutes in the second line. When Ross returns from rehab following ankle surgery, he’ll be able to prove the highly acclaimed up-side that both Coach Dwane Casey and General Manager Masai Ujiri continue to vouch for. With Lou Williams gone to the Los Angeles Lakers, it should be Ross’ turn to add the extra scoring punch as the Toronto Raptors new Sixth-Man.

The money also saved by allowing previously mentioned mid-level marquee free agents to walk allowed Masai Ujiri to add a savvy veteran in Luis Scola to the second-line. The Raptors will be able to rely on Scola night after night, considering the Argentinean played in all 82 games five times in his eight year NBA career. He even once averaged 18.3 points and 8.2 rebounds with the Houston Rockets during the 2010-11 season, thanks to his crafty post-game and mid-range jump shot.

Scola also provides a great defensive presence, considering his 100.8 defensive rating was the highest amongst all bench-players in the league last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com

His years of experience both in the NBA and internationally could help develop the equally poised Patrick Patterson, a once team-mate of Scola’s in Houston, who will most likely now start at the power-forward position.

The Center

Upon losing Tyler Hansborough, the defensive anchor of the second unit, Masai made sure the Raptors would return with a new defensive big man for the 2015-16 season. A squad like the Golden State Warriors, that are praised for their revolutionary game of small-ball, still had under-the-basket defensive anchor Andrew Bogut, who was second in the league last year in defensive rating, according to Basketball.Reference.com

With that in-mind, it’s easy to understand why Masai Ujiri decided to sign Bismack Biyombo of the Charlotte Hornets. Who is from the same 2011 Draft class as offensive big man, Jonas Valanciunas. Bismack Biyombo at only 6 feet, 9 inches is undersized for the typical center, but his 7,7 wingspan and athletic build make him a dangerous presence under the rim. After displaying signs of defensive brilliance, with three occasions on his resumé of posting 7 blocks in a game, Masai hopes to have found himself some more raw talent.

When comparing Bismack and Jonas’ 2014-15 numbers per 36 minutes, the former posts averages of 8.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks. The latter posts an average of 16.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks. With both developing centers holding bright futures with different strengths, Dwane Casey will have a set of sparing partners at the center position come practice time, that can both serve in either Toronto’s starting or secondary unit.






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