So, uh, the Raptors closed Game 1 with a lineup featuring Bebe at centre. Yes, Bebe.
The big smiley Brazilian played the final nine minutes of the game, which began with a 10-0 Raptors run. Toronto won the game by eight.
Alongside Bebe, the Raptors trotted out DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Delon Wright.
And it was all normal.
One of the main benefits of the Raptors’ depth is their ability to adjust to any opponent. They can play small with Ibaka at centre and they can go big with Jonas Valanciunas. They can play three guards and they can play three wings. Pascal Siakam and Wright can play small forward.
Less FVV, more questions
The flip side of the Raptors’ flexibility is a lack of familiarity – especially with Fred VanVleet out for Game 2. The Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat even said he didn’t expect the Raptors point guard to be back the entire series.
That’s a shame, because Lowry-FVV-DeRozan-Siakam-Ibaka would probably be the Raptors’ preferred crunch-time unit. With VanVleet out, they’ll need to experiment a bit more.
With the game winding down, the Raptors need to keep two things in mind. First, is there enough shooting on the floor to let the offence run smoothly? Even in DeRozan isolations, it’s imperative that defenders can’t help off of shooters on the wing.
Second, the Raptors must have two players who are able to guard both John Wall and Bradley Beal, so they can switch on the Wizards’ one-two pick and roll.
The second part of that equation is why the lack of VanVleet may actually help the Raptors. It’s also why his replacement should be Wright. Start with Wright’s speed on Wall and Lowry’s aggressiveness and willingness to fight through off-ball screen to stick to Beal. Switch the Wall-Beal pick and roll, and you don’t lose much.
On offence, Wright is obviously less of a deep threat than VanVleet. But if Wright is your primary ball-handler, that matters less.
How does Ibaka help?
So now the Raptors are going with a three-guard look. Ibaka probably checks in as a fourth guy. Playoff Serge is a different beast, as was expected. Ibaka can hang with any Wizards on defence – even if he gets switched on to Wall. You just don’t want him chasing Beal around.
Offensively, Ibaka may feel like fourth-quarter Patrick Patterson in his inability to his threes. Indeed, he only made 20 per cent of his fourth-quarter three-pointers. That number is 36 per cent in all situations, however. And with the possibility of Ibaka playing rover on defence instead of having to guard, say LeBron James in a Cavs series, there should be more optimism for his shooting to go up.
So that leaves us with one last player to round out the Raptors’ crunch-time unit. In Game 1, Bebe got this spot. O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and C.J. Miles are the other ideal options.
The Raptors’ 5th guy
Each brings something to the table. Bebe can use his length to affect almost every shot at the rim, and even though he’s slow in closeouts, he makes up for it with the length of his arms. The lanky centre also keeps the ball moving on offence, though he doesn’t have range. However, he often falls asleep on the court and barely has any experience playing in a lineup with the other four.
Siakam is the best defender of the four, and he can guard everyone on the court. He’d be ignored on offence.
Miles is the opposite; he’s the best shooter of the four by a mile, but he’ll get bullied on defence.
Which brings us to Anunoby, the ideal candidate to finish games with this unit. When Anunoby is shooting confidently, he shoots it well. Before his injury, he was hitting over 45 per cent. HE might get ignored, but like Ibaka he could make the Wizards pay.
Defensively, he’s not as quick as Siakam but he’s more physical and did a decent job containing Wall in parts of Game 1.
The main issue with a closing lineup of Lowry-Wright-DeRozan-Anunoby-Ibaka could be rebounding, though that’s offset by the guards’ affinity for getting in the mix.
Obviously, the crunch-time unit is largely dependent on the flow of the game. It also probably makes sense to switch Miles for Anunoby on offence where possible.
Still, these five represent close to the best closing option for the Raptors.
Of course, the ideal unit for the Raptors would include Lorenzo Brown cleaning up the garbage of a Toronto blowout.