In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he talks about how little things can make a big difference. In some instances, it can be the difference between failure, success or even mass success. For the Toronto Raptors, the tipping point could be something so small that it tips them over the edge and brings them into championship discussion.
The big question(s) are: what do the Raptors need and how much would the Raptors have to give up to get it. A few days ago, a rumor came out saying that Atlanta is taking offers for Paul Millsap. Millsap is an elite Power Forward in the league. Everyone knows the Raptors have been short in that position for a while, so at first look it sounds like a great fit. However, I am not convinced Millsap is what they need. Millsap, at age 31, is having a decent year but is starting to get up there in age. He is shooting okay (44% FG), a decent FT shooter and has good assist and steal numbers. The one area that does concern me is his 0.9 block rate per game.
The biggest knock on the Raptors in the postseason was their interior D. Every opposing coach knows this and come playoff time, every team exposes it. The worst of this was when Toronto got swept by the Washington Wizards. Every (important) play seemed like the same pick and roll, drive and penetrate or dish for the open three. This changed in last year’s playoffs when they had the luxury of Bismack Biyombo, who was able to step in and play big minutes (especially after the injury to Jonas Valanciunas).
Currently the Raptors have Paskal Siakam, who can help, but is still a rookie. Jared Sullinger will be coming back from injury soon and is on a bargain basement contract. However, he also does not have the stand out quality of interior defence I feel they need. Toronto also has Lucas Nogueira, who has played well recently, but I’m not yet convinced he has the strength and physicality needed in a long playoff run. I’ve noticed Nogueira come into Raptor games recently and really turn things around for the team. I was curious and decided to take a look at his plus/minus compared to JV and was somewhat surprised to see that Nogueira has had a significantly better +/- rating over the past five straight games. Not just a little bit, but by quite a lot. The difference in those games was 9, 11, 6, 15 and 6. Obviously +/- isn’t a complete stat, and there are just as many other factors, but sometimes it does come down to the simplest stats. There are just too many variables in basketball that cannot be measured, even with advanced analytics. Toronto needs a standout defensive stud that can run the floor with their two PG attack. We need someone who is athletic and fast, who can defend the perimeter and block shots. If you look at the two elite teams in this league (CLE and GS), when it counts, they use Tristan Thompson and Draymond Green at Center. Versatile big men that can do exactly what today’s NBA requires in clutch situations. Some big men come to mind that would fit the bill for Toronto.
Trade Targets I would LOVE to see:
Nerlens Noel – Young, defensive stud that has proven defensive ability. Career averages of 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks. Fast, athletic Kentucky product. Can run with Toronto’s guards and defend the perimeter. His recent injuries are a concern but Philly is running out of time and all indications are that Noel will be the big man they move. Do it Masai!
Derrick Favors – Still young at only 25 years old, Favors can be a beast when healthy. Legit 6’11” double-double, shot blocking athletic standout. Third overall pick and was traded for Deron Williams. All star quality player that maybe not be in the right place in Utah with so much young upcoming talent. The rumors are saying that the Jazz are thinking that him and Gobert are not the best tandem to play together so Favors may be available for a reasonable price.
John Henson – 26 years old with proven defensive abilities. Similar to Noel, he is fast and can run with the guards. He has never really found his way in Milwaukee and Masai could probably get him for a very reasonable price.
Larry Sanders – When he was playing, he was one of the best up and coming stars in the league. Unfortunately, his off-court issues forced him into a buyout situation and he left the NBA. He just turned 28 years old and has been making hints that he would like to make an NBA return. I say, give him a chance and see if he still has it. It is close to a risk-free move as the Raptors wouldn’t lose any assets to get him. I just get this feeling that he, Lowry and DeRozan would mesh and could become an elite trio in this league.
Gorgui Dieng – We probably don’t have the assets to acquire Dieng. He is a solid defensive talent, good shot blocker and can run with the fast pace guards. 26 years old and just beginning to show his full skill set and about to enter his prime. If we could land him he could be another building piece we could add to our young core of players.
Serge Ibaka – The rumors say he is older than his 27 years old that they claim he is and I sort of believe it. His block numbers have declined steadily and that usually happens later than 27 years old. He was a former shot blocking machine blocking a ridiculous 3.7 shots a game back in 2011-2012. Similar to Millsap, he is a free agent at the end of the year so we would also lose him but he is still a complete package and him teamed up with our explosive backcourt would be a thing of beauty to watch.
Might be worth a shot:
Jerami Grant – Young, super athletic, great shot blocker. Was buried in Philly with their loads of young undeveloped talent. Now in OKC.
Jahlil Okafor – Athletic and a pure scorer right out of the gates which is so rare for a center in the NBA (unless your name is Towns). Doesn’t give the same defensive presence that I’m hoping to get but is still an upgrade and a budding star in this league.
Would be nice but doesn’t work salary wise:
Bismack Biyombo – Unfortunately mid-season trades need to match salary wise (within 20%) so that would be very difficult for the Raptors to come close to matching his 17 million dollar contract. I was ecstatic when we signed him as a free agent and he gave Raptor fans a taste of what it is like to have a defensive athletic stud in the center position.
Untouchable Trade Targets:
Towns, A. Davis, Griffin, Turner, Embiid, Antetokounmpo, P. George.
I didn’t touch on Cousins. He is a bit of a wildcard in my opinion. Clearly has shown he can be a dominant force in this league. My worry is if he is so good why has it never translated to wins. Sacramento has only finished higher than 13th in the conference once since Cousins joined the team seven years ago. That one time was last year when they finished 10th, still out of the playoffs. Sacramento has always tried to build around him trying many different pieces and combinations. Some players make the players around them better. Cousins is not one of those players. On the other hand, maybe he is worth the risk.