Opening Statements: Wizards at Raptors, Game 30 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards at Raptors, Game 30

Updated: December 30, 2015


The trip down memory lane continues for the Wizards. Two nights ago, they faced the player who led them to playoff greatness in Paul Pierce. Tonight, they face the Toronto Raptors, who provided Washington with good and bad memories in 2015.

The good, and arguably the best memory of the year for the Wizards, was defeating the Raptors at the Verizon Center in Game 4 for a first-round series sweep. Pierce showed everyone why he was brought here, Randy Wittman discovered the effectiveness of small ball, and Otto Porter demonstrated that he was ready to be a significant contributor.

The bad memory came recently in November, when Cory Joseph did this:

John Wall shot 6-for-25 that night, the bench shot 2-for-17, and that last-second defeat to the Raptors represented the Wizards’ fourth loss in a five-day span. To make matters worse, after that game Marcin Gortat talked about Pierce, the good memories, and went off about the state of this team at the time:

“We got to cut the negativity that we have coming from players, coaches, staff, media. We just got to cut that. It’s not even fun coming here anymore. It’s so much negativity. I understand we’re losing games, but damn, we just got to cut that right now. It’s not fun at all, I think it starts with big expectations before the season. Everybody thought we’re going to go to conference finals and stuff like that. We didn’t make any spectacular trades or signings in the offseason. It’s not like we’re supposed to be three times a much better team this year. We lost Paul Pierce, a guy who’s a great leader, experienced player. We signed three players that they deliver good stuff to the table for us, but at the end of the day they’re not All-Stars. Expectations are high and we are not up there yet.”

The Wizards were 6-8 after that loss to the Raptors, and since then they’ve been marginally better by going 8-7. Nene is still out and awaiting MRI results on his bad calf. Bradley Beal can resume non-basketball activities but has been out since December 11. And Alan Anderson, one of the non-All-Star acquisitions Gortat spoke of (1), has yet to play this season and will be out for two maybe four more weeks. Despite the injuries and mediocrity, there are reasons for the Wizards to be optimistic heading into tonight’s game and the new year overall.

Gortat is no longer complaining about chemistry and touches, because he’s playing some of the best basketball of his career. He’s averaging 16.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in the month of December, and won the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award by averaging 21.3 points and 11.7 rebounds. Wall, who struggled in the month of November (14.5 points and 7.8 assists per game), especially with turnovers, has returned to All-Star form with averages of 22.8 points and 11.7 assists in December. Garrett Temple is averaging 12.8 points as a starter and has set career highs in scoring twice this month (21 points and 23). And finally, young Kelly Oubre, who was forced into more playing time due to injury, is playing with more confidence and awareness. The Wizards may be wounded and average at best in their current state, but the potential for more is there.

The Raptors have been better this season. They’ve dealt with their share of injuries (Jonas Valaciunas missed 17 games with a fractured finger, and DeMarre Carroll has been battling a knee contusion), but they are 19-13—good for first in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference. The slimmed-down Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been the anchors as usual, but they have also received sizable contributions from Luis Scola, Bismack Biyombo, and the aforementioned Cory Joseph.

Marc Stein, who ranked the Raptors fifth in his weekly Powers Rankings List, recently had this to say about The North:

“DeMarre Carroll (knee) is back. Jonas Valanciunas (hand) is poised to return Monday night. And Kyle Lowry bounced back with two (let’s call ’em) steady games last week after his 18-for-60 shooting slump over a three-game stretch heading into our previous batch of rankings. The Raptors, in other words, are getting pretty close to whole again.”

Teams: Wizards at Raptors
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Rogers Centre, Toronto, Canada
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Toronto fav’d by 7.5 points

Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC), who writes for the ESPN TrueHoop blog Raptors Republic, is here to discuss all things Wizards-Raptors. I also returned the favor which can been seen seen here.

Q #1: William Lou, a good writer over at Raptors Republic, came out and said that Kyle Lowry is the best guard in the East. Do you support Lou’s argument?

@BlakeMurphyODCLowry and Wall are very close, both in terms of overall track record and on the season so far, but Lowry’s deserving of the starting All-Star nod at the point in the East. (Even if it were dead-locked, tie goes to the host team, right?) As a stage-setter, a quick look at the catch-all metrics (which need to be taken with a grain of salt): Lowry is first in the East in Win Shares and sixth overall; Wall is 34th and 70th; Lowry is first in the East in Daily RAPM Estimate from Nylon Calculus, Wall is 13th; Lowry is second in the East in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, Wall is ninth. Again, these aren’t the be-all, end-all, but the fact that the numbers all agree and see Lowry as the best player in the East so far (or at least the best guard) is telling, I think.

Looking at their individual production, Lowry owns a slight edge in points, rebounds, steals, turnovers, 3-point shooting, and free-throw attempts, while Wall has a significant assists edge and shoots better inside the arc. If you’re making the Wall argument, it’s probably that his assist production outweighs the slight edges Lowry has elsewhere, especially since Wall is probably a better defender (Lowry’s played generally strong defense this year, but I’d suggest Wall is superior). Offensive efficiency metrics give Lowry an edge (PER, TS%, Offensive Rating), and while you’re mileage may vary with PER, everything seems to point to Lowry holding a statistical edge.

There’s also the matter of the Raptors being 19-12 while the Wizards are 14-15, a not unimportant consideration. Lowry’s been playing the best call of his career and has been (marginally) better than Wall while leading a better team. It’s close, and I love Wall, but Lowry’s been better so far this season.

Q #2: Bismack Biyombo and his game have awakened, but Jonas Valanciunas has returned after a 17-game absence. How will this affect Biyombo, and what types of adjustments will Coach Dwane Casey have to make as a result.

@BlakeMurphyODC: I wrote a ton about this Monday but Valanciunas’ return comes down to this: Biyombo’s filled in admirably, but the team is much better off with Biyombo playing the backup role he was hired to play. For all Biyombo’s rebounding and rim protection, the team has continued to struggle with him on the court, as playing 4.25-on-5 on offense is simply too taxing for the team’s ball-handlers and the driving lanes that become crowded for them.

Valanciunas is a far superior offensive player and opponents guard him as such, helping open up the game for his teammates. He’d also been playing much better than last season defensively before the injury, owing in part to a change in scheme. The Raptors were outscoring opponents by 9.4 points per-100 possessions with Valanciunas on the floor; they hung in well without him, but they’re in much better shape now that he’s back. All respect to Biyombo, who deserves a world of credit for helping stem the tide, but there’s little question he’s best suited for a backup role.

Q #3: Speaking of Casey, he’s goes in and out of the hot seat just as much as Randy Wittman. Is he currently on the hot seat, and what does he have to accomplish this season to be “safe”?

@BlakeMurphyODC: It shouldn’t be hot at all. I’ve always leaned more pro-Casey than most (except for right after the Brooklyn series two years ago when my apartment walls were covered with scribbles of his name, Joe Johnson’s, and Terrence Ross’ mis-positioning on the final play of Game 7). The team changed schemes, altered the assistants, and brought in players that better fit his style, which I think was a strong indication he was going to be given the full year to work things out.

And he’s done a great job so far this season. His late-game reliance on an isolation-heavy playbook is still cause for concern, and he’s occasionally been slow to make in-game adjustments or has used his timeouts curiously. These are the kind of things that pop up for any fanbase when you watch a team for 82 games. In the big picture, he has the Raptors at 19-12 despite missing two of their starters for 17 and 12 games, and the team is in the top 10 in efficiency on both ends of the floor. He’s handled rotations well, he’s gotten more creative with funky lineups, and he’s actually done a good job in terms of out-of-bounds plays and after-timeout plays. Maybe the injuries forced his hand for some of that, but I think Casey has done a good job this season.

The team holds an option on his contract for next year. Unless things go south or general manager Masai Ujiri has a specific candidate in mind, my guess right now would be that Casey’s seat is of a comfortable temperature.

Q #4: Please finish this sentence. The Raptors can beat the Wizards in a seven-game series this year because…

@BlakeMurphyODC: …they can play at both ends of the floor. And Paul Pierce is gone.

Seriously, they’re much better equipped to play two ends of the floor and play varying styles this year. Last year, they were locked in as a one-sided team that could only go “small” with two point guards and not shifting a wing to the frontcourt, something that hurt against the Wizards. DeMarre Carroll helps with the defense and with opening up new lineup combinations, and Cory Joseph makes Casey’s pet two-point guard lineups a more functional two-way look.

The specter hanging over the Raptors’ playoff chances is getting there in good shape. Lowry wore down last season and while he entered in much better shape this year, he’s still playing 36 minutes a night (as is DeRozan) in a high-contact style.

  1. Gortat has also called Anderson one of the Wizards’ better defenders.
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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop,, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.