Blazer Banter

The Scouting Report: Toronto Raptors

In an attempt to help you get to know the Blazers opponent each night, we are going to post a little bit of a scouting report of each team on the blog before each game. Sunday morning, the Blazers will be in Toronto taking on the Raptors at 10 AM. The game will be shown on CSNNW and can be heard on the radio on 620 AM. The broadcasts will be simulcast on radio on TV as Blazers radio play-by-play man Brian Wheeler is missing the trip.

Projected starting line-up: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas

New faces: Tyler Hansbrough (free agent), Dwight Buycks (free agent), D.J. Augustin (free agent), Julyan Stone (free agent), Austin Daye (free agent), Steve Novak (trade).

During the offseason the Toronto Raptors made perhaps the biggest splash with an off the court personnel move when they signed former Denver GM and 2013 Executive of The Year, Masai Ujiri.

Ujiri had come up through the Toronto organization and his handling of the Nuggets, especially how he managed to build a 57-win team just two years after trading Carmelo Anthony, certainly boosted his resume.

The Nuggets were not eager to pay him more than what they already were and Ujiri was on his way back to Toronto, replacing Jerry Colangelo and tasked with making up for recent years of misuse of cap space.

The first thing Ujiri did was rid the Raptors of the albatross that was Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani had flashes of good play, especially when the Raptors were making the playoffs with Chris Bosh. However, Bargnani’s final years featured poor outside shooting and defense that became increasingly problematic.

However, they did acquire a 2016 first round pick as well as second rounders in 2014 and 2017 as well as Steve Novak in exchange for dumping Bargniani and his combined $23.3 million over the next two seasons.

The post-Bargnani era hasn’t been great, but hasn’t been bad, and herein lies the problem Ujiri faces: a team talented enough to make the playoffs in the East but one lacking cap flexibility to take the team to the next level.

The Raptors have been pretty good on defense since they traded for Rudy Gay and they continued that success into this year by ranking in the top-ten in defensive efficiency while their offense is 15th out of 30 teams.

Today, we are joined by one of my twitter homies from way back in the day, Raptors fan and devotee to the Church of Jonas Valnciunas, Atique Virani.

The Raptors are a team that is frustratingly incapable of optimizing their offensive talent. The most valuable assets on the roster are a talented, quick point guard, two very efficient pick-and-roll big men, and crazy athleticism on the wings. A smarter offensive team might seek to utilize those talents by running at every opportunity and basing their offensive game plan around high pick-and-rolls. But the Raptors are one of the slowest teams in the league (last in pace at 90.7 possessions per game), and their offensive game plan relies on the isolation talents of Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan. Sometimes, like on Wednesday against the Grizzlies, both players move the basketball and hit open shots. Usually, at least one doesn’t. On the bright side, Toronto’s starting line-up is quite dynamic defensively, attempting to follow Indiana’s protect-the-paint philosophy centered around a big rim protector and elite athletes on the perimeter. If they hope to achieve any success, it’s the defense they must hang their hats on.

Follow Atique on twitter: @AtweetVirani

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for The Columbian. He's a graduate of the Allen School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in addition earning a degree in Spanish. He started writing about NBA Basketball for SwishScout.com before being the Sports Reporter Intern for TrailBlazers.com. He also fist-bumped with Kanye West once. Follow @BlazerBanter on twitter for more Blazers news.

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