We’re continuing out series where we take a look at the Memphis Grizzlies opponents. Let’s see how they match up with the Eastern Conference foe Toronto Raptors.
The Toronto Raptors cut some of their their Memphis Grizzlies connections in half this off-season. Former Grizzlies draft pick Demarre Carroll was traded (dare I say banished) to Brooklyn in a salary-dumping move. Carroll follows former Memphis Grizzlies Rudy Gay and Greivis Vasquez as former Raptors as well.
The trade leaves point guard Kyle Lowry as the sole former Grizzly on the team. Lowry was once one of the three strong point guards (along with Damon Stoudamire and Mike Conley) that were “locked in a room to see who came out first” by Lionel Hollins.
Toronto was among the better teams in the NBA last season. The Raptors ranked among the top 10 teams in the league in offense (10th) and defense (8th). However, they failed to replicate the season before’s win total or playoff run, getting swept in the second round. This year the Raptors are going to need some of their younger players (Norman Powell, Delon Wright and Pascal Siakam) to take a larger role off the bench.
The significant losses from last season’s 51 win team are Carroll, P.J. Tucker, Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson. Coming in to replace them are C.J. Miles along with rookie OG Anunoby from Indiana.
Miles isn’t the defensive force that Carroll could be, but he’s a superior perimeter shooter and ball handler. He should help ease some of the burden on Lowry and backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan. The Raptors will need their young players to step up if they want to get further in this year’s playoffs.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG – Kyle Lowry
SG – DeMar DeRozan
SF – C J Miles
PF – Serge Ibaka
C – Jonas Valenciunas
Advantage for the Grizzlies
There are always teams that other teams don’t enjoy playing. Toronto appears to be one of those teams for the Grizzlies. There’s one area the Grizzlies have a decided advantage. Jonas Valenciunas is a skilled European big man who’s very uncomfortable too far away from the basket on defense and too slight to force himself inside against Gasol. Last season Gasol averaged 30 points per game on 53.8 percent shooting and 50 percent from the arc.
On the other hand, Valanciunas averaged a mere 6.0 point compared to his season average of 12.0 points. Valanciunas often found himself in foul trouble against Gasol as Marc’s superior moves took advantage of Valenciunas’ overplays. This is a surprising discrepancy between the two players since Valanciunas had a 20.13 PER last season.
The man knows how to play the game. He just hasn’t learned how to play against Marc Gasol yet.
Advantage for the Raptors
I’m not saying the Grizzlies made a mistake keeping Conley, but Lowry apparently feels like he has something to prove every time he laces up against the Memphis Grizzlies. Last season did little to dissuade that belief.
Lowry averaged 29 points, 8 assists and shot 55.9 percent from the field against the Memphis Grizzlies last season. Those are impressive numbers.
Conley averaged 11.0 points, five assists and shot 25 percent from the field. Conley did miss the first meeting while recovering from his broken back, so the statistics are slightly misleading.
DeMar DeRozan shined against the Memphis Grizzlies scoring 24 points while hitting 66.7 percent of his field goal attempts.
It’s amazing to realize the Grizzlies split the season series with Toronto when you just factor in these two players contributions.
Memphis Grizzlies need both of their stars to have strong efforts in matchups against Toronto this season. Memphis also needs health Chandler Parsons and Tyreke Evans to be healthy. The combined six knee injuries can’t slow them down for Memphis to match the Raptors offensive ability.
The Grizzlies need maturity from Wayne Selden and Andrew Harrison. The second year guards will be counted on heavily this season.
Finally, the Grizzlies will need to find an answer at power forward. The answer may be to play more small ball with Parsons or Ennis so they could pull the Raptors bigs away from the basket and hopefully off the court entirely.
Toronto has one of the stronger starting lineups in the league, and their bench is talented but mostly unproven. Delon Wright is a playmaker as the backup point guard, but he isn’t a consistent scorer. Norman Powell is slightly undersized at shooting guard but showed a knack for scoring in the playoffs averaging 11.7 points while hitting 44.1 percent of his 3-point attempts. Pascal Siakam started 38 games last season as a rookie. He should be the primary benefactor of Patrick Patterson’s departure. These young players need to step up to avoid another slip by Toronto.
Conley and Gasol can offset Lowry and Valenciunas, leaving the Grizzlies to figure out how to contain DeRozan and Ibaka while meeting the Raptors youth with their own. The Grizzlies will be working in youth of their own with Wayne Selden, Andrew Harrison, Deyonta Davis and possibly even Jarell Martin hoping to move into the regular rotation this season.
I don’t expect either team to sweep the other, but it’ll be tougher for the Grizzlies to earn the split.