Scouting Report: Toronto Raptors
The Raptors think they got their star on Thursday when they acquired Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies. Toronto had coveted Gay for years and they finally got their man by unloading Jose Calderon and Ed Davis.
Now just because the Raptors have coveted Gay doesn’t mean that he’s a superstar. He’s a star when it comes to athleticism and scoring. Gay has averaged 17.9 points per game during his seven-year career, including a stretch of five-straight seasons of at least 18.9 PPG.
Scoring isn’t a problem for Gay but he has never truly excelled as a difference-maker in the NBA. He has never broken 18.0 on the PER scale, while means that according to former ESPN columnist and current Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger, he falls between a “solid second option” and a “third banana.”
That’s certainly not superstar status, but Gay is a de-facto superstar on this Raptors team. He is their No. 1 option on offense and should be for years to come.
Toronto has been struggling with injuries over the past couple of months but it could be much closer to full strength tonight than it has been in months. Linas Kleiza, who has played well against the Celtics in the past, is the only Raptors player who is ruled out of tonight’s game. He is nursing a sore right knee. Landry Fields is also unlikely to play due to back spasms.
Missing two players is never a good thing, but Fields is not a key rotational player (particularly on this post-trade Raptors team). Additionally, a possible return from Andrea Bargnani would help to make up for the absence of Kleiza.
Bargnani has been out for nearly two months due to a torn right elbow ligament but he is rumored to be returning to the lineup tonight. This would be the first opportunity for the Raptors to see their true starting five of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Gay, Amir Johnson and Bargnani play together. If that lineup trots onto the floor tonight, Raptors front office personnel will certainly have a smile on their faces.
Toronto hasn’t had a true identity in quite some time. Second-year Raptors head coach has always wanted this team to be stout on defense but that simply isn’t in the cards. So where do they turn? To their athleticism.
This crop of Raptors is about as explosive and athletic a group as you could find in the league. Lowry, DeRozan and Gay are all superior athletes at their positions. They all possess great size for their positions as well (Lowry more so in strength, while the others possess more length and height). This is the one area where Toronto will now be on a level playing field, or even on its own playing field, every night.
It’s very difficult to gauge what the vibes are in Toronto right now. Raptors fans and the organization must be elated that they’d acquired a premier talent, but the team has a very confusing 1-1 record since Gay’s acquisition.
Toronto embarrassed a Western Conference championship contender on Friday when it blew out the Clippers by 25 points. That’s a great way to start an era with Gay, but just two days later the Miami Heat handed the Raptors a 15-point defeat.
Which contest is more indicative of what this new Raptors team has to offer? The sample size is too small at this point to know for sure. The only thing we do know is that our friends from north of the border are happy with their makeover.
As Kevin Garnett put it on Tuesday, “He’s bringing a spark to the city. That’s the first thing that stands out when I watch them.”
Their Achilles’ Heel
Much to the chagrin of head coach Dwane Casey, this team’s Achilles’ heel is its defense. The Raptors rank 21st in the league this season by giving up 99.4 PPG. They also allow opponents to make 46.2 percent of their field goal attempts, which ranks 25th in the NBA.
Those numbers won’t win many games, and that’s why Toronto has been victorious just 17 times this season. There is, however, potential at the defensive end. We’ve already noted how athletic the Raptors are now with Gay in the fold. All Casey needs to do is get his players to buy in.