Toronto Raptors Putting Focus On Interior Defense

By Michael Roberts
Amir Johnson
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors are preaching defense first during the preseason, hoping the commitment to both ends of the floor carries the franchise back to the playoffs.

The moment coach Dwane Casey was hired by former general manager Bryan Colangelo, the coach began changing the culture surrounding the Raptors for far too long.

Toronto had an ugly reputation as a soft defensive squad that relied entirely on outscoring their opponents, mostly by living and dying on three-pointers. The Raptors didn’t intimidate anybody defensively as opponents would drive the lane at-will, rarely receiving a hard foul. If any Raptor did foul somebody it was often a love tap which resulted in a three-point play for the opposition.

Casey doesn’t tolerate soft fouls; he believes if you’re going to foul somebody, put them on their behind. Make the opponent think twice before driving the lane so they settle for mid-range jumpers as opposed to getting smacked on a lay-up attempt.

Entering his third year as head coach of the Raptors, Casey finally has the pieces in place to ensure the opposition will never earn two easy points. Previously, with the softer than cookies out of the oven Andrea Bargnani on the roster, Casey wasn’t getting an intimidating paint presence from the seven-footer. Jonas Valanciunas was an unreliable defender a year ago, as he was too raw and made multiple rookie mistakes which would put him in foul trouble.

Now with a more mature Valanciunas, both physically and mentally, Casey potentially has his intimidating shot blocker and defensive anchor. The sophomore center has the strength and speed that allows him to be mobile enough to cover the majority of the paint without being pushed around like he would be last season. Valanciunas still needs to avoid the unnecessary soft fouls that plagued him in his rookie year. However, he’s shown in the preseason he has a better understanding of what Casey wants from him and that opponents won’t be fouled by the center without it leaving a mark.

Speaking of fouls leaving a mark, the addition of Tyler Hansbrough to the roster gives Casey exactly what he wants from his interior defenders. Hansbrough never stops hustling when he’s on the court and isn’t afraid to put an opponent on his back with a hard foul. With the reputation of being somewhat of a dirty player, Hansbrough will play the tough, physical style of defense Casey wants around the rim.

Amir Johnson’s play style is nearly identical to Hansbrough’s, only Johnson is much more athletic and mobile on the court. Johnson has proven he’s willing to work his tail off for his team and will also play through injuries as his aggressive style often leaves him banged up. A potential double-double player and capable shot blocker, Johnson enters the new season as the Raptors’ best interior defender.

With Valanciunas, Hansbrough and Johnson all willing to work hard and aren’t afraid of committing hard fouls to protect the paint, Casey’s team will finally have opponents thinking twice before driving the lane.

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