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Thad Young will help the Raptors lean into their predatory nature

Toronto has been viciously hunting the opposition’s weak-links. Expect it to continue.

NBA: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Raptors, whether you’re talking about birds or dinosaurs, are typically understood to be hunters. Be it in packs, or swooping down out of the sky to startle some poor small mammal, they’re always looking for weakness.

The Toronto Raptors’ deal for Thad Young shows that they plan to double down on their own predatory instincts. While there was a hue and cry for Toronto to add a veteran back-up point guard, or another back-court piece that could shoot, GM Bobby Webster decided to quadruple down on the existing plan: Kill the weak.

Young is not a perfect player. His lack of a consistent outside shot will likely rear its ugly head, especially in the playoffs. But what he can do fits the Raptors philosphy to a tee. He’s a big (6’8”) wing who can handle the ball, and make realtively high-level reads.

His lack of playing time in San Antonio obscured it, but Young was still a very effective player, averaging 15.4 points, 9 boards and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes (or as Nick Nurse likes to call it: “A night off”) on a 57.4% true shooting. That’s well in line with his recent body of work; remember, a year ago half the NBA was clamouring for him, when Young put up 17.9/9.2/6.3 on 57.8% true shooting.

It’s interesting to compare Young’s per-36 to Caris LeVert who put up a 21.4/4.4/5.1 on true shooting of 52.9% - LeVert is definitely a bucket, but a much less efficient one, who grades out worse on defensive metrics.

And, picking up on what our Josh Kern said yesterday, it’s interesting to see how much hand-wringing there has been over the drop from roughly the 20th pick to the first pick in Round 2. Since 2000, the average 20th pick has been worth about three wins over a replacement player. The first pick of round 2? Just under two.)

The point being, the Raps didn’t pay a ton and they got a Thad Young who is still useful, and is going to allow the Raptors to double down on an increasingly mean-spirited game plan.

Because when you run out five players who can all handle the ball, and make relatively high-level reads, and three or four of them can also mash little guys, you’re going to find a mismatch.

The Raps have been increasingly good at channeling their inner predator to find those mismatches, allowing the game situation to dictate where the ball goes.

Look at this example from the Raps game against Oklahoma City:

O.G. Anunoby is probably the Raps 4th option, but Toronto goes to him right off the bat, because he’s being guarded by Josh Giddey. Giddey isn’t short, but he is thin — he has no realistic hope to keep O.G. Anunoby from getting to the cup. However, the Thunder have to be cautious with their double team, because Anunoby, while not a plus-plus passer, is more than capable of hurting a sloppy double. Anunoby patiently keeps his dribble and gets a relatively easy lay-up.

Here’s another example from the same game.

Kenrich Williams is a pretty good defender, but he’s not quick enough to keep up with Siakam who gets a step on him, and, when he misses the lay-up, is still comfortably bigger than Williams and able to to grab the rebound and lay it in.

Later, the Thunder have the smaller, and theoretically quicker Ty Jerome on Siakam. With Jerome standing 6’5, Siakam has a chance to go to work, but he knows the Thunder, who play more of a regular sized line-up, have the 6’3 Tre Mann on Scottie Barnes. Siakam waits for Barnes to flash into the post and...

Since they got healthy back around the New Year, the Raptors have done this over and over again, getting switches or straight-up attacking mismatches. Thad Young, while not a dynamic athlete, has the craft, size, interior finishing and passing to punish any team that is forced to stick their 4th defender on him. On this team, that’s going to happen a lot. And if Young DOES get a top defender, than that means that Barnes, or Boucher, or someone else is going to have an opportunity with someone too slow, or too small.

Even an elite defensive team like the Milwaukee Bucks are going to struggle. If the Raps are cooking, who is Pat Connaughton covering? Connaughton is a exceptional athlete and a solid defender, but he’s also 6’5. Put him on VanVleet and he’ll get cooked by quickness, but have him check Anunoby, or Barnes, or, now Young, and it’s a double-team situation waiting to happen.

That’s why the fact that Young, a very good passer for a wing/big, fits so nicely. Unless the double-team is SHARP he can start kicking the ball around to find an open shooter, or someone deep in the paint. If Young gets the pass out of the double-team he has the size and wiggle to attack the paint, either for himself or to further collapse the defense.

If the Philadelphia 76ers have Tyrese Maxey on the floor against the Raps, he’s going to get attacked (hell, even Danny Green will have a tough place to play if the Raps can keep Embiid from just sitting in the lane).

Elite defences like Boston and Miami will still be tough nuts to crack, as they offer fewer places to attack, but if they go too deep into their bench to find line-ups that tilt towards offense, it almost doesn’t matter who the Raps have on the floor, a mis-match will be waiting, and the way Toronto is playing right now, they’ll find it.

Afterall, that’s what predators do.