ESPN writer Joe Kaiser mentioned in his article on Wednesday how the Toronto Raptors sufficiently lacked defensive prowess with their wing players. That is true, to an extent, but it is a different area that the Raptors should be wary of.
With a lack of experience and strength, the No. 4 and No. 5 positions pose a looming question mark in the defense-first philosophy of coach Dwayne Casey.
Granted the Raptors have Jonas Valanciunas, one of the rising stars of the NBA, but will it be enough to change the strategies of opposing teams and make them fearful in the process?
Behind Valanciunas you have seasoned veteran Amir Johnson. Johnson has earned a reputation around the league for his boundless energy and athleticism, but is at most an undersized power forward playing center. He is a player that teams do not fear when they see his name in the lineup.
Throw in newly recruited Tyler Hansbrough, who, despite his ferocious tenacity and fearlessness on both ends of the floor, is someone other big men thrive on playing against, and ultimately laugh at. If you think guys such as Chris ‘Birdman’ Anderson are scared of Hansbrough, think again.
Hansbrough will add much needed inside toughness, but that isn’t asking much, considering the guys that are around him. What the Raptors need is a guy in the realm of Roy Hibbert, a huge cog in the success of the Indiana Pacers over the past couple of seasons.
Playoff basketball is as much about matchups as it is about how many superstars you can fit in your lineup. Clearly, the Miami Heat struggle against a dominant big man. Indiana and Miami have met each in the playoffs each of the past two years, forcing a Game 7 this past year.
A huge reason for that was Hibbert; the sixth year player blocked, rebounded and scared. He was an inside presence that forced Lebron James and Eric Spoelstra to rethink their strategy and ask that extra question.
Perhaps the Raptors’ biggest mistake was trading Hibbert back in 2008 after they had just drafted him, but we won’t go into that.
The lack of big-men is not the problem here. It is the absence of a player that can hold down the fort against the top teams. With a lack of feared players on a defense-first team, it may well end up being another ‘what could have been’ season.