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Man in the Middle: Ranking the Raptors’ Centre Options

There remain questions about Toronto’s potential frontcourt rotation. Let’s try to answer them.

2016 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

There are not enough caveats in the world to toss in front of this inaugural rankings post — a favourite around these parts, to be sure — but let’s try anyway. The Raptors played a game of professional basketball on Saturday night. Yes, it was the preseason. Yes, it was but one single solitary game. Yes, we should probably chill. But alas, we cannot.

The Raptors are still searching for a centre. There’s just no two ways about it. The NBA is going smaller, but that doesn’t mean teams don’t have to protect the rim. The team’s most potent lineup last year heavily featured Bismack Biyombo, and now finds a Biyombo-sized hole in the middle. As it stands, the Raptors have exactly one (1) guy who they know they can play big minutes at the 5, and who can work (for the most part) on both ends of the floor. That’s Jonas Valanciunas. Every lineup combination after that, both with Jonas and without, has some sort of uncertainty attached to it. And that’s before we even get to the names involved in our little centre power ranking here.

To sum up: there’s the small ball solution — pairing Jared Sullinger with Patrick Patterson — which gives the team some impressive scoring punch, inside-out threats and increased mobility. (Though Sully isn’t exactly the quickest dude around and he’s not blocking anybody’s shot.) And there’s the idea of sliding DeMarre Carroll to the four, to be paired with Jonas at centre, which was a good idea a season ago before Carroll became a walking M*A*S*H unit. (Though, really, a JV-PP pairing also feels solid; and a Sully-JV starting lineup pairing feels inevitable.) If those four are the Raptors’ go-to frontcourt guys, what then of the rest of the team’s big men?

After one game, let’s take the pulse of the Raptors’ search for a backup centre. It’s the first ever Man in the Middle Rankings, week one of an ongoing pre-season series.

4. Yanick Moreira

The big Angolan did not see the court on Saturday night against the Warriors and, well, will probably remain in this spot for the entirety of the pre-season. I didn’t intend to completely ignore the guy though so: hey, you’re on the list Yanick. Hang in there for tonight’s game against the Nuggets.

3. Jakob Poeltl

I feel as though I’ve flip-flopped on big Jak a couple of times now. When the Raptors first selected the Austrian with the ninth pick I deemed it something of a mistake. (Sorry, big fella!) Then I saw him play with some decisiveness and grace in Las Vegas and decided it could work. And now, one game into the pre-season, I find myself somewhere in the middle. It’s still quite early, obviously.

On Saturday night, Poeltl had five offensive boards and a couple of putback buckets — something of a speciality — but by all accounts looked to be very much the rookie he is. As of this writing, Poeltl seems destined for the D-League in the short term. To be clear: this is not an indictment of his ultimate utility in the NBA — dude is hyper mobile, with solid hands, and a good head on his shoulders — but right now, it feels like the correct call.

2. Lucas Nogueira

In my heart of hearts, I want Nogueira to own this corner of the Raptors’ roster. On paper, he should provide the team with everything it needs in a backup centre. He can block shots (two last night), he can finish at the rim and on the pick-and-roll (as seen a few times last season), and Toronto’s coaching staff have been gradually grooming him for just this role. It should be Bebe Time.

As inevitable as Nogueira’s place on the team should feel at this point, he still seems to be on shaky ground. This next month may prove to be the defining extended moment of Bebe’s time with the Raptors, and, if we’re being serious, his entire NBA career. I’m hoping I have good reason to slide him into the number one spot next week.

1. Pascal Siakam

Oh, to have a live mic on Dwane Casey as Siakam threw up that 3-ball late in the game against the Warriors. Let’s just say it’s a good thing the young, exciting (and excitable) big man managed to also snag a late offensive rebound and bucket to put the Raptors up for good.

Like the rest of the names on this list, Siakam, right now, is not quite the answer for the Raptors. He’s still raw, and still needs to learn. (And there’s also the question of whether he’s actually big enough to routinely be played at centre to begin with.) But after a debut 9-point, 8-rebound, 2-block performance, there’s something there, right? Right.

There’s also this:

Hey man, you’re here.