There was a time this past regular season when the Raptors got weird. It’s true.
Toronto did not have a starting power forward they could rely on for awhile — poor Pascal Siakam was (and is) an over-matched rookie, Jared Sullinger was out for good, and Patrick Patterson was injured. The veteran talents of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker had yet to arrive. The team tried some funky lineups with Jonas Valanciunas at centre, paired with either Jakob Poeltl or Lucas Nogueira. It suggested a certain openness — born from necessity — from coach Dwane Casey. He’s a dogmatic leader, sure, one who enjoys a good stable playing rotation.
But, come on, JV and Bebe.... at the same time? Two months later, it feels like a fever dream.
The Raptors are in a situation of necessity once again. Not from a dearth of options — they’ve got plenty! — but from a lack of realistic hope. LeBron James has that kind of despairing effect.
Still, Game 2 is tonight and we need to review some of the Raptors choices. Let’s count’em up.
1. Sit Valanciunas and start Norman Powell
A popular choice, seeing as it saved the Raptors from getting cooked by an amped up Bucks team in Round 1. Does Powell give up a ton of size to LeBron? Can he actually guard the guy? Can anyone?
I like this idea if only because it puts more speed on the floor for the Raptors. And maybe we’ll get to see Norm dunk on James (or at least Kevin Love). Plus, Jonas just did not look comfortable in Game 1 — my dude was a -21 in 21 minutes, got worked by Tristan Thompson, and still has no idea how to pass out of the pick-and-roll or a double team. That’s bad.
2. Sit Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll for Norm and Patrick Patterson
Patterson did not have a good Game 1. Hoo boy, if it’s possible to do so: I’m underselling this. I legit worry his solo travel call — you know the play where he caught the ball wide open on the perimeter, beyond the three point line, and managed to shuffle his feet instead of just shooting the dang thing — may still be dogging him.
Still: he can guard Kevin Love or LeBron and can shoot a 3 and move the ball. Is his mind still in place? Time will tell.
3. Sit Valanciunas and Carroll for Norm and Jakob Poeltl
The wild and weird option out there right now. If Casey were to start a rookie in the second round of the NBA playoffs against a team with LeBron James, well, then I’ve seen everything.
Poeltl could very well be over-matched in this situation — as perhaps any rookie would be — but he could also be... good? At the very least, Jak gives you some motor, some heady play (more so than poor Jonas anyway), and while he’ll likely get bullied by Thompson or Love (which seems insane to me), we could at least sigh and say, ah well, he’s a rookie. There’s vim and vigour to be had in playing Norm and Jak together and just running without a care in the world.
4. Sit Valanciunas and Carroll for Tucker and Patterson
The Serge-Pat-Tucker trio has been a defensive dream of mine for sometime now. Maybe these three guys aren’t as good at rebounding as Jonas, but putting them out there together definitely gives the Raptors some extreme versatility in the frontcourt.
The problem of course is that Tucker and Patterson are limited in what they can do on the offensive end, which is where the Raptors need help. Patterson, theoretically, can shoot; likewise with Tucker, but only from the corners. Once either of these guys have to do anything else with the ball: trouble ensues. The Cavaliers will happily let Tucker and Patterson try to beat them in that manner.
(I realize we’re not saying much about Carroll in all these scenarios, but what is there to say? He took one shot in Game 1, which is just not enough offense. He can do even less with the ball than Patterson and Tucker — if that’s possible — and continues to look like a shell of himself. There’s nothing DC can do to make up for this unless he’s got a time machine to bring in the version of himself from three years ago. Sad face.)
5. Sit Valanciunas and Carroll for Norm and Patterson
This solves the potential offensive problems of Option #4 but exposes the team on defense a bit. Norm covering LeBron is not ideal, but we can always remind ourselves that no one can really cover LeBron. Powell was also on a shooting hot streak, and someone has to try to scare the Cavs at the rim (along with DeRozan).
The idea of putting Patterson on LeBron instead, and have Norm on hand to hassle Love is also a fun idea to contemplate. More on this in Option #6.
6. Sit Valanciunas and Carroll (sensing a theme here?) for Norm and Tucker
Essentially the same as Option #5 but the Raptors would be sacrificing a ton of size. Part of me would love to see a real switch-up here with Norm defending Love, if only because I believe Love to be softer than a pile of ricotta cheese, but in the grander scheme of things this is probably not the smartest play. (Even if Tucker is the most natural LeBron stopper on the Raptors.)
I suspect some combo of Norm-Tucker-Patterson will play together for stretches, but putting any two of them in the starting lineup is not ideal. Options 5 and 6 are potent bench ideas though — see the second quarter of Game 2 for proof.
7. Start Pascal Siakam and Bruno Caboclo
The Raptors aren’t doing this, I just wanted to check to see if you were still awake and reading.
Could mean *ABSOLUTELY NOTHING*...could be a smokescreen...but Norm+Siakam were wearin the black warm-up jerseys (NORMALLY worn by starters) https://t.co/oCTajeEuTi— Eric Smith (@Eric__Smith) May 3, 2017
8. Do nothing (the LeBron heat death option)
Look, the Raptors starting lineup has been a problem all season. You’re not taking out Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, or Serge Ibaka (the team’s three best players), so the other two spots should be up for grabs by now. Consistency matters, yes, but right now the Raptors are consistently getting beaten up by the Cleveland Cavaliers. That is, as Lowry would say, a factual fact.
I have a motto with which I try to live my life: nothing comes from nothing.
A change to the starting lineup may only increase the Raps’ chances of winning by 5 percent. Maybe only by 1 percent. A single solitary percent. That’s a really small number! But we’ve already seen that they have a zero percent chance of winning (which is less than 1) with the starters they have now. They barely got by the Bucks with that lineup, and this is LeBron gotdamn James we’re talking about here.
So, go with nothing, get nothing. Or go with a change, or two, and maybe, just maybe, see something different.
(But yes, still probably nothing.)
Who wins Game 2 of this series?
This poll is closed
Raptors, a change will always do you good
Cavaliers, LeBron dunks on the concept of "mono no aware"