Which Teams Are Toronto Raptors Competing Against for NBA Playoffs Return?
Such is the nature of the NBA.
But it’s last season's bottom feeders that we’re interested in.
Of the teams that missed the playoffs last season in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Bobcats and Detroit Pistons appear ready for a rise in the standings.
Time will tell how these teams will fare, but one thing is for certain: The Toronto Raptors will be competing with each of them for a playoff berth.
Snicker all you want at them, but the Bobcats have put together an intriguing starting five.
Jefferson is the last of a dying breed. He is a rare big man who can score with his back to the basket whenever he pleases. He averaged more than 10 points in the paint per game last season, per ESPN.
Sure, he’s a bit of a black hole with his lack of assists (1.5 over his career) and isn't a great defender, but few players can stop him inside.
They’re young, but each of those players is talented. Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist have the ability to become stars one day, and Zeller should develop into one of the better post scorers in the league while learning from Jefferson.
Walker was especially impressive last season, averaging 17.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. With Jefferson to lighten the pressure on the young guard's shoulders, Walker should be able to improve his efficiency and develop a nice inside-out game with his new center.
The Raptors have an advantage against the Bobcats on experience and continuity, but they'll have a tough time stopping Jefferson and Zeller in the paint.
The Bobcats are a dark-horse team for sure, but if they put it together under new head coach Steve Clifford, they could give the Raptors some trouble in their playoff quest.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Bynum has signed a two-year deal with Cleveland worth $24.5 million.
While there’s no guarantee he'll stay healthy next year, if he does, the Cavaliers are playoff bound.
Combine Bynum’s dominant low-post scoring (20.5 points per game in the 2011-12 season) with Kyrie Irving’s perimeter wizardry, and you have potentially one of the best one-two combos in the league. Coming off an All-Star year, Irving will finally have a good supporting cast to help him make the playoffs for the first time.
When this team meets the Raptors, Toronto will likely not have an answer for Irving or Bynum. While Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas are both capable defenders, they won't be a match for the talented Cavaliers duo at this stage of their careers.
Not only will the Raptors’ wing players have a major advantage in both size—DeRozan is 6’7”, while Waiters is 6’4”—as well as athleticism, they’ll also have better chemistry.
Whereas Waiters and Bennett will play together for the first time this year, DeRozan and Gay will have already played half a season together, giving them the edge in this matchup.
Of all the teams the Raptors should worry about, the Detroit Pistons might be the most challenging—especially with Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reporting that the team has signed Josh Smith to a four-year deal worth $56 million.
Consider Smith's averages from last season: 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.
The Pistons have gained a versatile player who plays both sides of the ball.
But more importantly, they may have secured the most imposing frontcourt in the entire NBA.
The defensive disruption will be ridiculous. Smith was ninth in blocks last season with 1.79 per game, and Drummond, in his rookie year, was 16th with 1.58.
Add in an excellent rebounder like Monroe (9.6 rebounds per game last season), and Detroit has one of the best interior defenses in the league.
Granted, this team will have its struggles on the offensive end with Brandon Knight running the offense (2.7 turnovers per game last season), but the addition of Chauncey Billups, reported by Wojnarowski, should help.
The Raptors will have an advantage against the Pistons’ backcourt of Knight and Rodney Stuckey, but it’s doubtful they will be able to stop their front line.
Smith’s athleticism is equal to or even greater than Gay’s, and as good as Jonas Valanciunas is, he’s not strong enough to handle the twin towers of Drummond and Monroe inside.
Last season, the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors broke even against each other, splitting the series 1-1.
It’s likely to stay that way next season.
Much like the Raptors, the Wizards have kept their core together amongst the chaos of this NBA offseason.
However, unlike the Raptors, they had the No. 3 pick in this year’s NBA draft, which they used on Georgetown forward Otto Porter.
That’s a well-rounded lineup.
Of course, at the center of all this is point guard extraordinaire John Wall, who put up some crazy numbers at the end of last season—20.7 points, 7.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds with a 44.7 field-goal percentage after the All-Star break, via ESPN.com.
Wall should only be better next season, and with a full training camp (assuming Beal and Nene are healthy), this team looks to be a solid playoff contender. The Wizards haven’t made any flashy moves this offseason as of yet, but with their talented roster, they may not have to.
When the Raptors match up with this team, they likely won’t have an answer for Wall, but then again, not many teams will.
Where they can excel is inside the paint.
Nene and Okafor are big, but they had trouble staying healthy last year. Their games are also declining with age (only 27.2 minutes per game for Nene and 8.8 rebounds for Okafor this season, well below both of their career averages), meaning Valanciunas should be able to do some damage from the post.
Throw in the Raptors’ more experienced wing players, and Toronto should have a slight advantage over the Wizards, providing Valanciunas can do enough to offset Wall’s brilliance.