Raptors’ frontcourt a log jam heading into next season

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 26: Pascal Siakam
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 26: Pascal Siakam /

The Raptors’ offseason moves have left us with more questions than answers about how they plan to utilise their crowded group of big men.

Heading into the Raptors’ 2017-18 season, much of the team’s depth chart seems relatively predictable, except when discussing the frontcourt. For better or for worse, Toronto has left themselves with a lot of options at the four and five positions. Now they have to come up with a rotation that best fits the style of play they intend to implement and fits the talents of the players.

The Raptors currently have six power forwards/centres on their roster. Most of these men have an argument for more floor time, with varying degrees of legitimacy.

Style of play will determine rotation

The faces and names are not going to be much different from last year’s frontcourt, but a change in strategy should make them feel brand new.

The Raptors have made no secret about wanting to change from a team that relies on Lowry and DeRozan isolation plays, to one that resembles the pace and space style which relies on a lot of ball movement.

Lowry and Ibaka should be able to develop some chemistry during training camp, something they couldn’t do last season because of playing so few games together.

One of the ideas pushed by Casey and Ujiri after Ibaka resigned was having him get more minutes at centre. This makes sense given the need to go small against the top teams in the East. Ibaka’s defensive game can transfer to the five spot.

What does Ibaka’s position versatility mean for the Raptors’ “starting centre,” Jonas Valanciunas?

Jonas does not have the versatility on either side of the ball Ibaka has. He is and looks to always be a primarily low post offensive player, who on occasion will knock down open mid-range looks.

This notion that the Raps’ coaching staff and management are trying to sell about Jonas developing a three-point shot seems ludicrous to me. I can just picture the many unconvincing pump fakes before launching a brick from beyond the arc.

But maybe I’m being too hard on him. He did shoot a blistering 50 percent from three last year…on two attempts, maybe that percentage will hold with more opportunity.

Jonas has to diversify his game on both sides of the floor if he is going to remain relevant in the Raptors’ lineup. There were rumours at the draft the Raptors were shopping him along with their 23rd pick, according to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange.

Toronto’s second-year bigs deserve more minutes

Both Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl had promising moments during their rookie campaigns in the NBA.

Pascal Siakam started 38 games for the Raps last year, showing a lot of hustle, mixed in with some potential upside. He, like most bigs around the league, is looking to diversify his offense and extend his range. During this year’s NBA Summer League, he seems to be doing just that. At the time of writing, He is averaging 36 percent from beyond the arc. If he’s able to incorporate more offense into his game, he is the clear option at the backup four. Siakam could even lineup beside Ibaka when they go small and he’s at centre.

Jakob Poeltl was relegated to mostly garbage time minutes for the majority of the season. However, late in the year, Dwane Casey decided to give him some run and the young Austrian showed his potential.

It’s really hard to gauge exactly what Poeltl’s style is because he recieved so few minutes to show it off. He seems like he is cut from the same cloth as Valanciunas. His offense is mostly low-post ability with the potential to stretch it to mid-range.

Though the skills set may be similar, Poeltl looks to be a much more refined player than Jonas. He has much better touch around the rim, and he plays with more basketball instincts. He is smooth around the basket and knows where the basketball should go.

Poeltl has shown his offensive potential during Summer League. He is averaging 13.5 points and 9 rebounds, on over 70 percent shooting.

In my mind, he projects to be a better fit for the style of play the Raptors are shifting towards over Jonas. He will need to improve on his 54 percent free throw shooting, something JV did at an 81 percent clip in 2016-17.

What’s up with Justin Hamilton?

Justin Hamilton came to the Raptors as part of the DeMarre Carroll deal to the Brooklyn Nets. Toronto is the LSU product’s fifth team since entering the NBA. Shortly after the trade was announced, many reports indicated the Raptors intended to use the stretch provision and waive their newly acquired centre.

The Raptors media relations twitter account confirmed the reports of Hamilton’s release, just one day after the trade became official.

Unless Masai Ujiri needs the roster spot, I’m not sure I understand the need to waive Hamilton before training camp. He’s never going to start for them, but he has got some stretchy qualities and could eat garbage time minutes.

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