Could Raptors ever become Warriors of the East?


The Raptors have the personnel to imitate the champions. Would that approach work?

The basketball world has been concurrently thrilled and rattled by the absurd success of the Golden State Warriors. Thrilled, because how often does a team put perfect complementary pieces around a transcendent talent like Stephen Curry, and follow up a championship season with a 26-1 start? Rattled, because how do you keep up with the Joneses? Can it be that the only way to win big in the modern NBA is to pack the roster with smallish shooters, and bomb away from outside the 3-point arc?

Since the Raptors signed free agent DeMarre Carroll in the off-season, I’ve been hoping to see a Warriors-like lineup. I’ve pushed for a starting group of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas.

Dec 5, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll (5) tries to drive to the basket as Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) defends during the second half at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s compare the starters of Friday night’s games. The Warriors sent out Brandon Rush, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut and Curry. That’s two guards, two swingmen, and rim protection. Festus Ezeli ended up playing a bunch more than Bogut, so they had always had a defensive-minded centre on the floor. The only “classic” power forward to make an appearance was the useful Marreese Speights.

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Toronto started Lowry, DeRozan, James Johnson, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo. Not that far apart in size and mobility to the Warriors…

Every lineup has a weakness; otherwise, all the games would be 0-0 ties, and we wouldn’t watch. If a team plays big, it’s betting on owning the boards and contesting paint penetration, but surrenders outside shooting. The reverse is true – to win when you go small, hit your deep shots and get fouled when you drive the basket. However, only recently has it been possible for a team to cram its lineup with enough quality shooters that they can’t all be covered.

The NBA did not adopt the 3-point line until the 1979-80 season, when a couple of rookies named Earvin (Magic) Johnson and Larry Bird entered the league. Prior to that, the great two-man combinations of the league were a small and a big (Walt Frazier and Willis Reed, Oscar Robertson and Lew Alcindor (Kareem), Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell). Now our dominant two-man combinations are smaller men who can both shoot and penetrate (Parker and Ginobili, Curry and Thompson, Wall and Beal, Lowry and DeRozan).

The Raptors have been unable to paper over the lack of a traditional power forward, so it’s time to move in a different direction. I don’t know if my suggested lineup can win on a consistent basis, or even a .500 one, but if I were coaching the Raptors, I’d love to find out.

A lot has to go right: Carroll must come back healthy, TRoss must be able to maintain his recent run of quality shot-making, DD must be prepared to drive and dish, JV needs to improve his footwork and timing. None of those are outlandish wishes, save Ross.

Next: Bismack has been a hit in the 6

We don’t have a Curry, or even a Green. But our gang isn’t bad – the “four shooters and a big” lineup might be the path to a championship.