Toronto Raptors Closer To Contention After Trade Deadline
The Toronto Raptors have bolstered their roster with the additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. But is it enough to dethrone the Cavaliers?
There’s no denying that the Toronto Raptors are a vastly improved team after their moves over the last week. The team headed into the All-Star break 16th in defensive efficiency and managed to pull out of a relative nosedive with a gritty win over the Charlotte Hornets.
Ultimately, the goal for the Toronto Raptors is to earn the franchise’s first berth in the NBA Finals. In order to achieve this, they would need to put an end to LeBron James‘ streak of seven straight Finals appearances.
While the Raptors didn’t acquire a superstar at the deadline, they did progress closer to their goal.
In terms of top-end talent, the Cavaliers still have a decisive edge over the Raptors. While Kyle Lowry has been the better regular-season player, Kyrie Irving has shown an ability to elevate his game in the playoffs. Lowry has typically faded out prior to the playoffs beginning.
DeMar DeRozan has taken significant strides forward this season. However, a significant gap still remains between him and LeBron James. Plus, the Raptors still don’t have a third player that’s on the level of Kevin Love.
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Despite all of this, the Raptors now possess tools to make a playoff series a fair fight. The team’s added depth should help alleviate the regular-season strain on both Lowry and DeRozan.
Few players shoulder a load comparable to the Raptors All-Star duo in the regular season, which could contribute to their tendency to fade in the postseason.
The All-Star break really couldn’t have come at a better time for the Raptors. The team needed rest and time to re-focus. Lowry has very capable backups in Cory Joseph and Delon Wright, as does DeRozan with Norman Powell and P.J. Tucker.
With these defensive-minded backups, the Raptors should be able to rest both players more and not worry about the opposition gaining ground or building upon a lead.
The other meaningful thing the Raptors have gained over the deadline is defensive versatility. In the past, the Cavaliers’ spread offense has created an unsolvable problem for the Raptors.
With the presence of Love and Channing Frye in the pick and pop, Toronto’s bigs were forced away from the rim. Jonas Valanciunas and Lucas Nogueira simply didn’t have the foot speed to handle those types of looks from the Cavs offense.
Now with Serge Ibaka, the team has a big man capable of switching onto the perimeter and isn’t afraid to move away from the basket. Patrick Patterson brought these traits to the defense before, but now the starting lineup will no longer be vulnerable.
When the Cavs elect to go with both Frye and Love, the Raptors can counter with Ibaka and Patterson, giving them defensive versatility as well spacing on the offensive end.
The Raptors also now have defensive options to help deal with the Cavs’ small ball looks. If James is playing at power forward, as he often does with the second unit, the Raptors can put Tucker on him in an effort to slow him down, while giving Carroll valuable rest.
You aren’t going to stop LeBron, but having multiple defenders playing shorter shifts to wear him down has been a viable defensive strategy in the past.
These are options that the Raptors simply didn’t have last season. Despite last year’s Eastern Conference Finals going six games, the Raptors still lost by a combined 93 points. They simply weren’t in any of the four losses and looked outclassed in those games.
While the Raptors shouldn’t be considered a lock for a potential playoff series against the Cavs, they now have the tools to make it a competitive series. With the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards both threats in the East, making the conference finals isn’t even a foregone conclusion.
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However, the Raptors’ defensive versatility won’t just aid them against the Cavaliers. The additions of Ibaka and Tucker will help contain the weapons of the Wizards and Celtics.
While neither team has as many options as the Cavs offensively, they use a lot of the same tactics, tactics which they are now prepared to handle.
With a newfound defensive versatility and the depth to rest Lowry and DeRozan, this is clearly the best team the Toronto Raptors have ever assembled. A decade ago this roster would be a legitimate contender.
Now, with superteams in Golden State and Cleveland, the Raptors are probably still on the outside looking in.
Toronto didn’t sacrifice much in order to improve their team. They kept a lot of their young talent and still have the ability to make future moves.
But for now, they have at least assured themselves of a fairer fight this time around, as well as an increased likelihood of returning to the Eastern Conference Finals.