Wizards-Raptors 2015 NBA Playoffs Series Preview Q&A | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards-Raptors 2015 NBA Playoffs Series Preview Q&A

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Updated: April 17, 2015

20150209-wizards-and-paul-pierce-vs-drake

The playoffs are just about here. Tomorrow, they said. Time for some thoughts, pixels, statistics, and etc.—Wizards vs. Raptors style.

Joining TAI today is Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC), NBA news editor for The Score and head honcho at ESPN TrueHoop’s Toronto blog, Raptors Republic.

Below, Blake answers five questions about the Raptors that I had for him, and following are five questions about the Wizards he had for me.

#1) These two teams have struggled since the All-Star break, no doubt, but in interesting ways. Washington has a 25th-ranked OffRtg and a 7th-ranked DefRtg since the break, while Toronto has a 7th-ranked OffRtg and a 24th-ranked DefRtg. And thus, the Wizards and Raps have the 18th- and 19th-best winning percentages, respectively, since the All-Star game. I kind of maybe think I know why Washington has been so bad, so what gives about the Raptors?

@BlakeMurphyODC: Honestly, this has been the toughest part of the Raptors season: We can’t really explain the fall-off. The team’s success relied so heavily on this strange, ethereal chemistry, and the organization bet big it would continue by changing very little in the offseason or at the deadline. It’s faded some, especially on the defensive end, where Dwane Casey’s aggressive scheme doesn’t really fit the personnel, even if Jonas Valanciunas is (slowly) improving as a rim protector.

I don’t think the Raptors were ever as good as they looked, and I don’t think they’ve been as bad as they’ve looked. Everyone lost a grip on their Bayesian priors during the hot start, but a bottom-10 defense and top-10 offense was always kind of likely looking at the roster. The slight offensive slide has mostly been regression, while the defensive slide is probably a case of opponents realizing how to exploit a defense that is based on quick help and early rotations, something only good teams—especially those with a good penetrating point guard (know one?)—can take advantage of.

#2) What’s the pecking order in terms of ‘who takes the last shot’ for Toronto amongst Lowry, DeRozan, Sweet Lou, or Gravy Greivis?

@BlakeMurphyODC: Trailing late in a fourth quarter, I still think Lowry has the ball in his hands. They anointed him The Guy, he’s had the ball in his hands in those situations before (Brooklyn Game 7), and he’s the point guard. That thinking obviously changes some if Wall is swallowing him up defensively, so it’s nice to have options.

From there, Lou gets the next look, and he may also get it with a lead, because free throws are a less volatile outcome than a Lowry triple or drive. As much as DeRozan may be the team’s best overall scorer and as much as he’s improved as a distributor, I think he’s working off-ball in clutch situations while Lowry or Lou initiate. I don’t have the SportVU numbers, but I’d imagine DeRozan’s gravity score is pretty strong for a non-shooting threat, and he can open up a lot of space for the point guards if Casey gets creative.

Poor Vasquez. He wants the shot. He thinks it should be his. If he touches the ball, he’s shooting it. But if he’s got the ball at a key time, things have gone awry.

#3) There’s speculation that if either of these teams go down in flames (4-1 or 4-0 sweep) in the first round, then their respective coach, Randy Wittman for the Wizards and Dwane Casey for the Raptors, will be given the ax. From Toronto’s perspective, do you agree/disagree?

@BlakeMurphyODC: I know the fans want it but I’m not sure it’ll happen.

In Casey’s favor: He just got an extension, the team’s been successful in back-to-back regular seasons, and he has the highest winning percentage of any Raptors coach ever. He’s also not that bad, I’d say maybe slightly below-average, and it’s unclear if there would be an obvious upgrade willing to take the job.

Against him: The team hasn’t improved this year, Valanciunas and Ross have developed more slowly than expected, he lacks offensive creativity, and his defensive system doesn’t fit the roster particularly well, something he’s been slow to figure out. A series loss, whether quickly or in another heartbreaker, would probably be justification enough for a general manager who still hasn’t brought in “his guy” since taking over.

With the All-Star Game coming to Toronto next year, the Leafs set to be awful once again, and the franchise probably wanting to sell 2015-16 as a huge year, yeah, Casey’s seat is probably pretty warm. Until we see the interested candidates, I’m not sure it’s going to make a heck of a lot of difference, but I get it.

#4) Who is Toronto’s “x-factor” or “glue guy” or “dude who can hammer a nail into a board in one hit”?

@BlakeMurphyODC: James Johnson. Casey has been reticent about Johnson’s minutes fluctuating, but he’s rarely disappointed when he’s out there. From the red hair to the “I can guard you, LeBron, or anyone else for that matter” attitude, to the way he gets the crowd into it with dunks, steals and chase-down blocks, he’s the energy and, if given the chance, a potentially huge piece in this series.

He was brought in to help guard guys like Pierce, at the 3 or the 4, and even though Patterson can probably do a good enough job without sacrificing the team’s spacing, Johnson needs to be getting heavier run than he was late in the season. His shooting also undersells his offensive ability, as he was the league’s best finisher on drives this season and is an underrated, if sometimes out-of-control, passer.

How much and how well Johnson plays on Pierce could go a long way in determining a series with few clear positional edges.

#5) Who is the best Canadian entertainer who‘s ever lived (and if you say Drake then you might as well say Celine Dion or Justin Bieber)?

@BlakeMurphyODC: Chris Jericho.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpNmTNkuYQA

Series Pick?

@BlakeMurphyODC: Raptors in 7.

★★★

#1) Raptors fans seemed to have psyched themselves up about the Wizards as a good playoff matchup based on regular season results. How does this sit with you?

@Truth_About_It: It sits just fine, because I might have done the same thing. Some Wizards fans wanted to play the Bulls going off last season’s 4-1 series victory and a couple matchups with Chicago this season. I would not be scared of the Bulls for the Wizards, but Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Derrick Rose (even if his jump shot isn’t working) each provide dimensions that make Tom Thibodeau’s offense much more dynamic than before. Holistically, I’d also rather the Cleveland Cavaliers lose in the playoffs and think that Chicago has a better chance of doing that in the next round. (And Toronto fans would also probably prefer to not face LeBron in the second round.) All of this is to say is that I wanted the Wizards to play the Raptors instead of the Bulls (see, we wanted each other!). The desire to face an opponent struggling since the All-Star break, like Washington, and to simply change it up would also be factors.

Note this: Regular season results thin sliced into single-games and packaged in various environments (back-to-back sets, injuries, etc.) can vary drastically from a playoff series where adjustments are constantly being made and you’ll never play twice within 48 hours. In 2013-14, the Spurs were swept 4-0 in the regular season by the Thunder yet prevailed in the conference finals. The Blazers went down 1-3 to the Rockets in the regular season but advanced in their first-round matchup. In 2012-13, the Warriors were 1-3 in their season series against the Nuggets and the Grizzlies were 1-3 versus the Lakers; both Golden State and Memphis advanced.

In the end, if you really weigh a chance at shutting Paul Pierce’s mouth (1) over a first-round matchup with the Bucks, more power to you.

#2) How has Bradley Beal developed as a defender this season? He seems the likely candidate to check DeMar DeRozan for most of the series and wasn’t exactly known as a stopper coming into this year.

@Truth_About_It: Beal is certainly no stopper, but he’s a better defensive player than most recognize. He plays passing lanes with discipline (perhaps once learning from Trevor Ariza); he understands positioning (might not be the best at fighting through screens, but good at placing himself in a position to avoid them); and Beal has sneaky athleticism (nearly as capable as John Wall in the chase-down block department). Let’s compare NBA.com player tracking data for each Beal and DeRozan on defense.

Opponent’s FG% when player is defending shot
(difference from opponent’s regular FG%):

DeRozan — 46.7% (plus-2.2%)
Beal — 44.1% (plus-0.2%)

From less than 6-feet:
Opponent FG%, Frequency of Opp. Attempts, Diff. from Opp. Regular FG%:

DeRozan — 71.3% | 24% | plus-11.3%
Beal — 67.7% | 19.3% | plus-8.4%

From 3-point land:
Opponent FG%, Frequency of Opp. Attempts, Diff. from Opp. Regular FG%:

DeRozan — 34.7% | 35.3% | minus-0.4%
Beal — 29.0% | 37.4% | minus-7%

Both players struggle with defending shots closer to the basket (no surprise for guards), but Beal is still significantly better in that category, better overall, and much better at defending the 3-point line than DeRozan.

All of that said, DeRozan is the more dynamic attacker off the dribble—27.7 percent of this field goal attempts come after 3-to-6 dribbles, while Beal’s same frequency is 18.6 percent (41.1% of Beal’s attempts come after zero (0) dribbles, 23% for DeRozan). So, Beal might have more of a challenge on defense, all things considered. The Wizards, toward the end of the season, went through great lengths to get the ball in Beal’s hands more to create. We’ll see if that means anything for the playoffs, as challenging DeRozan on offense is more important to how Beal defends him.

#3) John Wall was unbelievable this season. Scoring, distributing, defending—he did everything on the All-NBA level except for the disappearance of his 3-point stroke. Kyle Lowry started his season much the same but his effectiveness has waned as the season’s wore on. Who do you think has the point guard edge for the series?

@Truth_About_It: Lowry only got four games of action after missing nearly three weeks due to back issues, which are never a good sign, but it looks like he especially got his shot going in the last game of the season versus Charlotte (6-9 on 3s), which has to be encouraging.

It also must be encouraging, for fans in general, that Wall and Lowry are two guards who love going at each other and are not afraid to get physical. All-time, Lowry is 11-4 against Wall (8-3 as a Raptor). Assist and rebound averages when head-to-head have been close (Lowry 7.6 and 5.2; Wall 7.5 and 5.1); Wall turns the ball over slightly more (3.3 to Lowry’s 2.7). Scoring-wise, Wall has the advantage with a 20.1-point average on 44.4 percent shooting while Lowry has averaged 14.4 points on 38 percent shooting when facing Wall.

The series edge? Why, of course I’m saying John Wall. He’s faster, has a larger physique (even though Lowry is really a bull), and Wall is the better point guard. Wall averages 3.2 more assists per game than Lowry, 13.9 more passes per game, and 9.0 more points created by assists per 48 minutes this season. If Wall has the impact that he’s capable of on an offense system that struggled during the regular season, then he might finally be able to top Lowry when it counts.

#4) If you could pick a stipulation for a WWE match between Jonas Valanciunas and Marcin Gortat, what would it be?

@Truth_About_It: I have several stipulations. Each would have to wear one of those giant novelty boxing gloves on their right hand, and in their left hand each would have to hold seven Chihuahuas on seven leashes. Atop their heads, a plastic construction helmet not approved for actual use fitted with a can holder on each side with an energy drink in one holder and a stout IPA beer in the other; straws would extend from each can into each participant’s mouth, and both players would be required to finish a can of each beverage per round. I’d give Gortat the edge.

#5) A lot of Raptors fan have turned on Dwane Casey this season, but Randy Wittman represents one of the most exploitable pieces of the Wizards machine. Who do you see having the edge behind the bench?

@Truth_About_It: Many Wizards fans turned on Randy Wittman last year. Many believe(d) in his ability to effect a change in culture (especially defensively) from the JaVale McGee-Andray Blatche-Etc. days, which provided the team with promise and Wittman with a deserved chance. Many turned on the coach during this season (from a stubborn midrange offense to losing 11 of 13 games from the end of January to the end of February). Wittman could be coaching for his job this playoffs, but likely not. He’s got one more year on his contract and team owner Ted Leonsis is not one to pay someone not to work (unless your name is Blatche). Before we get into which coach has the edge, let’s go through a quick exercise.

Team 1 (NBA rank)

OffRtg: 108.1  (3)
DefRtg: 104.8  (23)
NetRtg: +3.2  (10)

Team 2 (NBA rank)

OffRtg: 101.8 (19)
DefRtg: 100.0  (5)
NetRtg: +1.9 (12)

In the playoffs, despite Team 1’s advantage in Net Rating, you might be inclined to take the better team on defense (Team 2), which I should not have to tell you is Wittman’s. Since the All-Star break Washington’s defense is about the same (99.9), but their OffRtg is minus-3.2. Meanwhile, Toronto has digressed in both areas—OffRtg is minus-1.7 and DefRtg is plus-1.0.

Wittman’s offense is mostly responsible for stifling the Wizards, which is why his seat is warm if not hot, but again, playoff-style basketball and the defense that predicates it. The series could really come down to turnovers, something out of the hands of either coach and through the fingers of players. Washington’s TOV% is 15.5, ranked 23rd in the NBA. Toronto does a better job of taking care of the ball with a TOV% of 13.4, ranked fourth-best.

All of this goes to say that the series could go in either direction and that neither coach truly has an edge. Probably.

Series pick?

@Truth_About_It: Wizards in 6 games over the Drakes.

  1. Who wouldn’t? And Wale’s!
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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.