The Raptors look to be a much improved team this year. With the addition of Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, Landry Fields, and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors have a strong core of incoming talent that they can build around. They already rostered the promising DeMar DeRozan, Italian gunner Andrea Bargnani, sharpshooter Linas Kleiza, young big man Amir Johnson, the agile and capable big Ed Davis, and Spanish point guard Jose Calderon.
Calderon is an expiring contract that could net assets at the trade deadline, either in the form of players or a trade exception.
The Raptors have some options, and a starting five that could eventually be one of the best in the NBA: Lowry, Ross, DeRozan, Bargnani, Valanciunas.
Let’s see how the revamped Raptors stack up against the Celtics:
Rajon Rondo / Keyon Dooling / Dionte Christmas vs. Kyle Lowry / Jose Calderon / John Lucas
This is really pretty evenly matched. Rondo and Lowry are both among the best 10 point guards in the game, with Rondo being a bit higher in near top-five status. But make no mistake, through almost the All-Star break last year, Lowry was playing better than all point guards not named Chris Paul. He fell off, but that potential shown hints at the fact that Lowry may be the next big time point guard in the NBA. The thing is: Rondo already is there.
Calderon is the best of the backups, but Dooling is capable of doing a job on Calderon. Dooling knows you just don’t leave Calderon open, nor do you go under pick and rolls with him. Lucas is a gunner, but won’t see many minutes. Christmas, while promising, will only see fringe minutes unless he shocks us all.
Avery Bradley / Courtney Lee / Jason Terry vs. Terrence Ross / Landry Fields
The Celtics truly do have one of the deepest backcourts in the NBA. Because Bradley and Terry can both play point in a pinch, and Lee can cover point guards, when you throw this trio in with Rondo, Dooling, and Christmas, you have a strong four guard rotation with two solid subs. That’s going to mean a lot of energy on the court, because other than Rondo, they will all get a lot of rest.
That’s going to be a lot for a defensive stopper in Fields and unproven rookie in Ross, to handle. Ross has some good size for a two-guard: 6’7″ with a 37.5 max vertical leap and a 3.28 three-quarter-court sprint. That athleticism, with a desire to win, could make the Raptors very good at shooting guard, but that time is not yet here. Draft Xpress gives his high upside as Jason Richardson and his low upside as Jeremy Richardson. If Ross were as good as J Rich by his third season in the league, the Raptors could CONTEND.
For now, we go with the present day.
Paul Pierce / Jeff Green / Kris Joseph vs. DeMar DeRozan / Linas Kleiza / Alan Anderson
This is a unique matchup. It pits the outstanding athleticism and undeveloped skills of DeRozan against the evaporated athleticism and guile and deception of Pierce’s footwork. Expect DeRozan to struggle, but I wonder if Pierce can stay with him for a long duration of minutes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Doc Rivers feature Green in the lineup more against teams like the Raptors who have more athletic swing men.
Kleiza will also pose problems, but could be covered by Pierce. The thing is, if Pierce gets lazy fighting around screens, Kleiza will make him and the Celtics pay for it. Alan Anderson had a nice season in 2011-2012, posting 9.6 points per game with a PER of 8.75. Joseph could be a valuable bench scorer.
This is a really tough call as to who has the advantage here, but I have to go with the shooting of Kleiza and the athleticism of DeRozan, and give a slight edge to the Raptors. I know that might sound bizarre, considering Pierce’s legend and Green’s acumen and skill on the perimeter, but the Raptors give the Celts more problems than they are capable of solving without more risky adjustments (e.g., doubling off from SG and leaving Ross open constantly, or putting Pierce on Ross).
Brandon Bass / Jared Sullinger / Chris WIlcox vs. Andrea Bargnani / Amir Johnson / Ed Davis / Quincy Acy
As much as I like Bass and Sully, it’s hard to give them the nod over a former No. 1 overall draft selection who has stroked the ball so well through his career so far, despite having an injury plagued 2011-2012 season. His percentages fell, but unless his mechanics are broken, we can expect Bargnani to go back to hoisting threes…and while I’ve never been a big fan of three point chucking big men, Bargs does it very well.
He’s too goofy and not skilled enough to enter the discussion of Dirk Nowitzki-type players, but he is better than the majority of the big white stiff perimeter types that we’ve seen in recent years. He’s pretty agile and runs the floor well, for his frame, and if he set his mind to it, he could be an above average defender.
He’s, simply, just too much for Brandon Bass. Bass is only 6’8″ and Bargnani stands a full four inches taller, and Sullinger will have no more luck than Bass with the seven-foot Bargnani. Amir Johnson is athletic and can get off the floor for blocks and rebounds, and Ed Davis is looking a lot like an energy guy off the bench, who can put points on the board in spurts. Acy is a wildcard, but the Baylor forward impressed all of last year and along with Perry Jones, he looks to erase the collapse of the Bears in NBA Dreams.
Kevin Garnett / Jason Collins / Fab Melo vs. Jonas Valanciunas / (Bargnani)
I love this: KG vs Jonas. I have compared Jonas Valanciunas to a young Euro KG. His length, aggressive style, and athleticism show a lot of similarities to an 18-year-old Kevin Garnett. If you don’t believe me, you really need to You Tube Valanciunas and take a look for yourself.
That said, I would not take an 18-year-old KG over KG now, and that is — needless to say — a huge reach on the upside of Jonas V. But I’m not afraid to make those kinds of reaches, because sometimes it proves you end up being right.
I noted Bargnani as his only backup, but Ed Davis will also see time at center. I’m not sure if Valanciunas is ready for full time duties as a starting center, but he’ll learn on the fly. The Raptors are committed to developing their best talent and the No. 5 overall pick from the 2011 Draft is now ready to shine. He just won’t do much shining against the defense and experience of Kevin Garnett.
Doc Rivers vs. Dwane Casey
I don’t see where there is much comparison to be made here. Casey has done nothing to substantiate his worth as an NBA coach and doesn’t stack up to a mastermind like Doc.
Advantage: Celtics, by a google-plex of miles
The Raptors may in some ways be the Celtics of the future. In that sense, I mean a team that has a strong core built around a couple premier talents. Much like the Celtics, their best two players play point guard and center, with a high scoring small forward flanking the wing.
Lowry : Rondo
DeRozan : Pierce
It’s a stretch, but that’s what makes comparisons like these fun. For the moment, though, I think you of course go with what has already worked.
Prediction: Celtics sweep 4-0