How Can the Toronto Raptors Beat LeBron James?
Last season the Toronto Raptors won a franchise record 56 regular season games and advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, eventually losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. Interestingly, despite clearly being the second best team in the East, the Raptors were never really considered a threat to the eventual NBA champs.
It’s easy to see why.
Since 2011, the Eastern Conference has been LeBron James’ personal playground. In each of the previous six seasons, LeBron’s team has won the Eastern Conference and advanced to the NBA Finals. Last year the Raptors took their best shot at slaying the proverbial giant yet, despite two plucky wins at the Air Canada Center, they too came up short.
After a largely pedestrian offseason, the Raptors have returned with essentially the same team as a year ago. That just isn’t going to cut it against a Cleveland team that looks better than ever in terms of on-court chemistry, oh and by the way, just added one of the league’s top shooters in Kyle Korver.
With all of that being said, let’s take a look at how the Toronto Raptors could improve enough to challenge, and perhaps defeat, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Import Talent: Trade for an Upgrade at the Power Forward Position
Over the last few weeks the trade rumors surrounding power forward Paul Millsap, have really started to heat up. Coincidentally, the Toronto Raptors happen to have a glaring hole at that position and they have emerged as one of the more likely destinations for the three time all-star.
Millsap seems like a perfect fit in the Raptors system. He doesn’t need to touch the ball on every possession which works well with the Raptors guard heavy offense. He would provide a third scoring threat for the team and his versatility will create tons of space for DeRozan and Lowry to create their own offense. More importantly, he’s one of the league’s best defenders at his position and will be asked to be a difference maker against LeBron James and Kevin Love in a potential playoff series.
If the Millsap deal doesn’t work out, there are still a lot of other forwards the Raptors can pursue. Trevor Booker, Serge Ibaka and Greg Monroe are also said to be potential trade options for the Raptors, and Jared Sullinger who hasn’t played a game this season, could also improve the team at both ends.
Improve from Within: Increased Role for Jonas Valanciunas
Valanciunas has shown flashes of greatest throughout his first five seasons, however every time he starts to really produce, he either gets injured or his minutes are inexplicably cut my head coach Dwane Casey.
In order for the Raptors to really challenge the Cavaliers, they need two things: a third scoring option to relieve DeRozan and Lowry, and a low-post presence. If the Raptors run more of their offense through their Lithuanian big man, they could potentially solve both of these issues internally, avoiding unnecessary chemistry issues.
So far this season, in games he has played 28 or more minutes, Valanciunas is averaging 16.1 PTS and 10.5 REB connecting on 58% of his shots. Furthermore, the Raptors win ratio improves by approximately 4% in these games. What’s more important, however, is Cleveland’s lack of post defenders. If JV can be allowed to develop into a reliable third option, the Cavs will have a hard time slowing him down.
Go Small: Add a 3 & D Type Player
One thing Cleveland has struggled with in the two previous seasons has been teams that play small and with enough versatility to defend in the post. As currently constructed, the Raptors can’t play this way. If they move DeRozan to Small Forward, he instantly loses the size advantage that allows him to play so efficiently and DeMarre Carroll’s knee injuries have made it difficult for him to defend in the post consistently.
Adding a wing player that can slide into a stretch-four position would allow the Raptors space the floor on offense and force Cleveland into making tough decisions regarding Kevin Love. That is easier said than done as there are not many players in the NBA that are big enough and skilled enough to play both forward positions effectively.
Players like Trevor Ariza, Jared Dudley, Robert Covington, and Otto Porter are just a few players that fit this description. If the Raptors could land a player with the right combination of post defense and reliable 3-point shooting, it might just be enough for the Raptors to overcome the Cavaliers.