With the Raptors set to square off with the Wizards in the opening round of the playoffs, we decided to throw some questions in the direction of Bullets Forever’s Michael Sykes in order to get acquainted with the team Raptors fans are most certainly going to detest by 8pm on Saturday.
Make sure to follow Michael (@MikeDSykes) before the series kicks off.
Let’s get to it.
Q1: Raptors fans are scared right now, man. The sweep at the hands of Washington in 2015 still looms large as a mental barrier to feeling confident about this Raps team. Help ease their minds (or drive their paranoia further) — how is this Wizards team similar, and how is it different from the 2015 squad?
The parallels between this Wizards team and the team in 2015 are there. They’ve still got a dynamic backcourt that has improved since then, long wings who can play the perimeter well on defense in isolation and sneaky shooting coming off the bench. But this team is far less disciplined on both ends than that 2015 team was and the chemistry just isn’t the same as it was on that end. These Wizards like to switch on defense instead of dropping back as they did in 2015 and that takes a ton of synergy that they just haven’t had this year. And this Raptors team is far better and healthier than the one the Wizards played in 2015 so, while Raptors fans might be concerned, I think they’ll be just fine.
Q2: The Wizards are a team with a pretty ho hum statistical profile — 14th in offense, 15th in defense, a barely positive NET Rating, and they don’t shoot very many threes. What would you say is the thing the Wizards do best and how could it apply to this series?
I think the best quality of this Wizards team might be the way they move the ball. They don’t shoot a ton from deep and haven’t consistently gotten to the rim, but a lot of that was because John Wall wasn’t available for half the year. With him out, however, they started making extra pass after extra pass and that helped the offense get by. That hasn’t changed much since Wall returned and could give them a bit of an edge in the series.
Q3: Every Washington lineup with 100+ minutes of floor time this year features a traditional centre in Marcin Gortat or Ian Mahimni. Markieff Morris is pretty much the only Wizard who get regular run as a small-ball five. In what situations are the Wizards most likely to try and go small, and what role do you think small-ball is gonna play for the Wiz against Toronto?
The Wizards don’t really go small at all despite having some pretty productive small-ball lineups. Their best lineups feature Porter, Oubre and either Gortat or Mahinmi but most of those lineups haven’t seen extensive minutes this season. With only a bit of tape available on these lineups, Toronto may not be ready for them, but Scott Brooks doesn’t have a tendency to go to these lineups so they may not be a concern by the end of the series at all.
Q4: John Wall at his peak is awesome, but he hasn’t been at that peak this year. In particular, his mid-range shooting has been bad. Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s in the 8th percentile of the league in the mid-range FG%, despite 40% of his shots coming from that part of the floor. Against a defensive scheme that gives up the sixth-most mid-range looks in the NBA, this would seem to be a problem. With all that in mind, is this a series where you think Bradley Beal should be tasked with more offensive creation duties? And if so what can Raptors fans expect to see from Beal as a playmaker?
I think John Wall’s awful midrange shooting this season is partly a function of terrible decision making and also a function of him not physically being able to get to the rim. Over the last few games since he returned from his long stint out, he’s been getting to the rim more but he still has a tendency to settle for those jump shots when he shouldn’t. I think Wall with a healthy knee will be just fine in this series and should continue to be a primary playmaker for the team. Beal’s playmaking has improved this year -- he’s reached career highs in both raw assists and assist percentage by a mile and that makes him more dangerous when he and Wall are staggered, but if he’s their primary playmaker throughout the series the Wizards don’t have a shot.
Q5: What about this Raptors team do you think should scare the Wizards and/or Wizards fans the most?
The depth on this Raptors team is incredible. I don’t think the Wizards should fear their starting lineup at all -- honestly, it might be their biggest advantage. It’s when the game gets into the second half and the Raptors are able to mix and match lineups with Fred VanVleet making plays everywhere and their athletic frontcourt starts flying around against the Wizards’ stagnant second unit. That’s where they’ll struggle the most I think. The Raptors can be unpredictable.
Q6: You knew I was gonna ask. What’s your prediction for the series?
Raptors in 6-ish games? I think this Raptors team is very good, but the Wizards have had some solid games against them this season without their best player on the court. Having Wall back and healthy helps a ton and I think the Wizards will be competitive. But I think the Raptors’ depth gets them to the second round.
Also, you should keep in mind that, regardless of outcome, we will always have broom jokes from the 2015 series to fall back on. The Raptors better not mess this up.