There’s an interesting read over at the Athletic from the day after the NBA Draft. (Admittedly, you may have to pay to read it.) In the piece, Ethan Strauss reports on Draymond Green and his presence in the Warriors’ draft room last Thursday. As you can imagine, Green had some things to say and some advice to give with regards to how the team should use their selection.
As Strauss goes on to explain, Draymond’s reasoning for approving the Jacob Evans pick is based around the idea of 82-game players vs. 16-game players. Regular season vs. playoffs. 82 vs. 16. Strauss cheekily calls it Draymond’s Law, which has a certain snappiness to it, delineating as it does the players who could presumably help Green (and the Warriors) in their quest to claim another NBA championship.
But what is the actual meaning beyond this descriptor? For Green’s purposes — and the NBA at large — it’s less about a player’s strength as it is about their weakness. Can said player, be it the incoming Evans, or, to flip to a Raptors example, Jonas Valanciunas, be exploited or attacked in some way? Is he too slow? Unable to shoot? Easy to rebound against? With the Warriors, the math makes an easy sense: their best lineups feature five players who have very few, if any, weaknesses. (As the piece points out, teams are forced to attack Steph Curry as their only viable option.) Meanwhile, Golden State’s main antagonist, LeBron James, just happens to be the perfect basketball player. To beat any of them, the Raptors would need to assemble as many of those 16-game players as they could to have a chance.
With the off-season ticking away, let’s take a step back and consider the Raptors roster right now. With no incoming rookie, and an extremely limited chance of making a splash in free agency, Toronto is very much what it is.
So then, who’s good for 82 games, and who can be counted on in that 16-game window?
Oh, you were expecting someone else at the top of this list? There is no doubt Lowry is the most 16-gamiest of all the 16-gamers in Toronto. Yes, he’s had some poor shooting playoff games — more than perhaps we would like — but he’s also the biggest reason why the Raptors can compete at such a level. When every advanced stat has you counting for larger and larger pieces of the winning pie as the games get more and more serious, you know you’re getting the job done.
Though he’s only had the smallest opportunity to prove this, OG Anunoby is a future 16-gamer in the making. He’s already got the defense down, he’s getting sharper with the playmaking, and once he’s shooting becomes steady rather than streaky, what’s to stop OG? The fact that he looks thoroughly unperturbed in every situation also helps.
I suppose you could make the case that Fred VanVleet could be attacked on defense due to his diminutive size — but this would also be a mistake. VanVleet has shown a fearlessness and effectiveness on both ends of the court to confirms this. Drift off him and he’s taking a big shot, attack him in the pick-and-roll and he’ll dive in for a steal. In short — no pun intended — underestimate FVV at your peril.
Could Go Either Way
The confidence is the thing. When Delon is playing with a belief in his multi-faceted abilities, he is easily a 16-game player. He can guard most anyone on the perimeter, can make himself useful in a myriad of ways, and he’ll do his damnedest to take and make whatever shot he can create (or the defense gives him). I just need to see a bit more oompf, a bit more of that Lowry-esque bite, to really put him in the top category.
Valanciunas is closer than he’s ever been to being a true 16-gamer. He proved himself to be invaluable to the Raptors this past season, and played huge for them when they needed him most. That said, teams can still get him stumbling backwards and out of the play. More distressingly, I’m not sure if there is a way for Valanciunas to improve any more than he already has. I’ll give him one more season to prove it.
Unlike the other two in this group, it’s easier to argue down on Siakam. He can’t shoot, his ball-handling skills are still somewhat one-dimensional, his decision-making is often questionable. It’s just that Siakam’s motor is so relentless, it makes it hard to discount him completely. Coupled with his vision — which is not nothing — Pascal has a chance to evolve his game in continuing leaps and bounds. Shooting better than 22 percent from deep would be a start.
Controversy! If you had to point to one specific reason why the Raptors were unable to leap past LeBron this past post-season, it would be easy to suggest DeRozan was the root of the problem. (There are other things: team defense, communication, etc., but still — one thing.) As good as DeMar can be over 82 games (and he’s perhaps one of the top 10 most reliable guys in the league), his specific deficiencies make it much easier for teams to counter-program. The gap between what DeRozan can do and what Toronto needs him to do is small, but the difference between him and, say, LeBron is unfortunately huge. That’s not entirely DeMar’s fault, but the theoretical space there defines the very principle of 82 vs. 16.
An absolute lights-out shooter, sure, but Miles is just a tad too easy to expose on defense. It’s not from lack of trying (OK, sometimes it looks like it is), and yet we’ve seen it happen again and again. Miles will have a value on the Raptors, and in the league, as long as he can let fly quickly and efficiently — but the takeaway on D can be enormous if he goes through a small sample size-induced cold streak.
It pains me to put my large adult son in this position, but watching Jak get bullied off the floor on both ends in the Raptors’ post-season run was all the evidence needed. Poeltl is a smart player, but like his Utes teammate Wright, he sometimes out-thinks or shakes (shooks?) himself. When you add that to Poeltl’s somewhat one-dimensional offensive game, it means only trouble in the pressure-cooker of the playoffs.
Let’s not dwell on this: Casey is a brilliant long-term manager. He made the Raptors better than they’ve ever been over the long haul, which matters a ton — especially for a team that was an eternal recurring joke before his arrival. Still, he was a step slow on adjustments for a few years running, and it cost Toronto.
Not Included or Incomplete
The jury is officially out on Ibaka right now. When the Raptors traded for him, they were looking at what they thought was a for sure 16-gamer, a guy who could swarm the floor on D and score from anywhere. Now we’re just hoping for Ibaka to make it through 82 games (or for him to be traded — yikes).
I don’t think Lucas can play a full 82-game season, but I also don’t think he’s got the skills to survive in short bursts in the post-season. He’s not steady enough either way, sadly.
Norm should absolutely be considered a 16-game player — he’s actually already done it! In fact, it felt weird this past post-season to watch him flounder as he did. This, even after he’d laid an egg all season long. Powell’s playoff aura continues to be so strong we figured he’d rise to the occasion one more time, just as he had in 2016 and 2017. As such, Norm is left adrift here — I really don’t know how to solve this.
Malcolm Miller, Alfonzo McKinnie, Malachi Richardson
These three aren’t one way or the other. They’re trying though!
The fundamental reasoning behind promoting Nurse to head coach of the Raptors is the belief that he’ll be more willing to let loose any kind of wild strategy his brain can come up with. His predecessor, Casey, was always quick to admit that everyone in the NBA knew what everyone else was up to and that surprises were hard to come by. This is true insofar as there are only so many combinations of players and plays out there.
However, the Raptors will likely not do much with their roster this off-season, and as this 82 vs. 16 application of Draymond’s Law suggests, Toronto has to make up the gap somewhere. Nurse could theoretically be just creative, innovator, or just plain reckless enough to nudge the Raptors closer to collective 16-gamer status. It’ll be hard to do — Casey is not wrong in his beliefs — but since we don’t know quite yet what Nurse will do, it’s still possible. We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out next April.