In trading John Salmons to the Atlanta Hawks for combo guard Lou Williams and prospect Lucas Nogueira (per Sam Amick of USA Today), the Toronto Raptors effectively hedged against losing out on the real prize: restricted free-agent point guard Kyle Lowry.
Just days later, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported Toronto had officially signed Lowry to a four-year, $48 million contract—a considerable coup for a team looking to bring back its playoff-tested core.
At that point, re-signing backup point guard Greivis Vasquez seemed like little more than a luxury—fine at a fair price, prohibitive and inviting a backcourt logjam if not.
It turns out that the truth was somewhere in between:
Considering some of the early free-agent offer sheets guiding the market, paying a solid third guard $6.5 million a year doesn't seem like such a terrible fiscal transgression.
Still, there's bound to be some concern over whether and how Toronto can effectively and efficiently manage its backcourt minutes—especially with three players who've logged their fair share of starter's minutes.
Unless, of course, general manager Masai Ujiri viewed the Vasquez signing as a much-needed insurance policy.
Looking at Lowry's injury history, the fear isn't entirely unfounded. During his eight-year NBA career, the one-time member of the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets has logged more than 75 games in a single season only three times.
And while Lowry's missed just 17 tilts the last two seasons, the Raptors simply can't afford to have their best player out for significant stretches even in a historically woeful Eastern Conference.
Vasquez, by contrast, has been the quintessence of stability, missing just 22 games in four seasons, with a good number of those being rookie-year DNPs.
That Vasquez is a serviceable stopgap is—based on both past production and durability—beyond reproach. But it's in how he and Lowry function together that may have proved the biggest impetus for Toronto's strategy of continuity:
That, right there, is no happy accident; both are capable of running the offense, and both are capable of playing off the ball—a fact borne out, at least in part, by their combined 39 percent three-point shooting last season (in the 61 games Vasquez was a Raptor, anyway).
"It's just natural," said Vasquez of his and Lowry's backcourt rapport in a March interview with Pro Basketball Talk’s Dan Feldman. "It's spontaneous. There's nothing forced. We just have good chemistry together, and we play great basketball together."
The duo's similarly vagabond careers certainly add to the chummy charm: Both were drafted and unceremoniously dumped by the Memphis Grizzlies; both bounced around the league for years before finding a stable home; both brandish street-fighter smarts and attitudes to match.
But the Lowry-Vasquez pairing is more than just about cherry-picked stats and nascent narratives; it's part and parcel with head coach Dwane Casey's entire inside-out, defense-to-offense approach. From Feldman:
Lowry and Vasquez significantly push the pace, generating many more fastbreak points than the Raptors usually get. ([Amir] Johnson said he's always looking to screen for the point guards when they play together, even in transition or after a play breaks down.)
With two guards capable of breaking down defenses and forcing opponents to rotate, the Raptors also offensively rebound better. And defensively rebound better, too – which is where this gets tricky.
The Lowry-Vasquez combination impacts Toronto more defensively than offensively, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey and his players say the scheme doesn’t change when the point guards play together.
Which brings us to Williams. Unlike Vasquez and Lowry, Williams has never been most effective or fluid running the point—he's a scoring combo guard through and through.
However, like his two-headed teammate, Williams is a reliable perimeter shooter, making him a fine fit alongside either.
That's the theory, anyway. In practice, Casey has his work cut out for him finding steady minutes for Vasquez and Williams, why with Lowry and newly minted All-Star DeMar DeRozan forming one of the league's more formidable one-two punches.
Even if Williams doesn't quite mesh, Toronto should find it relatively easy to trade his $5.5 million contract, as there are teams that are always desperate for a trade deadline scoring punch.
As for Vasquez, the fact that his contract comes off the book in 2016—the year Kevin Durant, his high school teammate and noted friend, becomes a free agent—is no accident:
Pipe dream though it might be, Ujiri's no fool. In short: Toronto has options, no small thing in a league where having a top-tier backcourt is a veritable prerequisite for perennial playoff relevance.
Are there risks associated with too much depth? Certainly, including awkward lineups, lack of positional balance and—in the case of Williams—resentment over having one's contract year be conspicuously compromised.
All the same, it's hard to quibble with this calculus:
There are bound to be those for whom the Vasquez signing stinks of superfluity, the basketball equivalent of stationing the majority of one's Risk Army in Australia.
Then again, so long as Ujiri doesn't spread the rest of his troops too thin—the inevitable death pang of many a Risk novice—Toronto's backcourt could prove the eventual staging ground for quite the postseason march.
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