Best & worst play-in matchups for the Raptors

Amit Mann and Jevohn Shepherd discuss how the Raptors compare against some of the teams they're likely to face in the play-in round. Full podcast is available on the 'Raptors Over Everything' podcast feed.

Video Transcript

AMIT MANN: I would say as well the Atlanta Hawks, because they have Trae Young. He's gone off against the Raptors a few times now. In the first match-up, he had-- he shot three of 13, then the two following that, 33 points, and then he had 29 and 9. And Clint Capela has been a factor in both those games. But again, you haven't faced them with Jakob Poeltl on your roster. And you just feel like-- you know, if the Raptors, you know, they decide to-- in a play-in situation, where it's winner take all, either win or go home, they're probably going to put OG Anunoby on Trae for the whole game, right?

But then what do you do with Fred against Dejounte Murray, because that's what happened in the previous match-up. They were just going back and forth, just attacking Fred. And that's not great. But at the very least, you have Jakob Poeltl as your stay at home, as your low man, your rim protector. And that's obviously going to help. And it will help ensure that Clint Capela doesn't go off in his own way. I mean, he's-- Trae Young and Clint, they have a great pick and roll. They're very good at getting the most out of each other.

JEVOHN SHEPHERD: Game plan? Game plan?


JEVOHN SHEPHERD: Put OG on everybody. Just put 5 OG's out there, let them go.

AMIT MANN: Totally, good.

JEVOHN SHEPHERD: Let them run five of him.

AMIT MANN: Yeah. And they did add some additions. They got a few players coming off their bench now that have an additional size, Okongwu, Saddiq Bey, some players that could present a problem for the Toronto Raptors, because they're pretty physical. They're strong in their own way. So that would be the match-up that actually does concern me a little bit, because you got the star power. You could say that Trae Young is going to be the best player in that game.

And then coaching experience-- Quin Snyder, he's still getting his ropes, but he's still a pretty damn good coach. And then the depth of the Atlanta Hawks has improved. But then outside of that, you know, the Heat don't really scare me. I like Jimmy butler. I think playoff Jimmy's a real thing. You know, we got Jimmy Butler-- well, we got OG Anunoby, so case closed to me. And then it's kind of like that.

The Bulls are interesting because I think the Raptors are pretty confident against DeMar DeRozan. Again, you have OG Anunoby, and then just a series of rangy forwards that could guard DeMar. But Zach LaVine is one that kind of scares me. The Raptors have had trouble with quicker guards, right?


AMIT MANN: That's been the MO. And he's also a little bit taller. He's not Trae Young. He's got some size to him. He's very fast, very agile. He can drop 50 on you. And while DeMar could do it too, in that kind of a game, I think it's more likely that Zach would do it than DeMar, if you get what I'm saying?

JEVOHN SHEPHERD: Yeah, different points in their career, I think.


JEVOHN SHEPHERD: DeMar-- and I always say this. When you're at-- when you're at different age-- when you start to hit that 30 plus mark and-- I think you're even seeing it with Kyle now, with him coming off the bench from Miami, great players, you don't want to take anything away from what they've done over their career. But there's is the difference in motivation and just ability. Father Time is undefeated between a guy that is mid 20s to a guy that is 30 and has a ton of mileage from playing eight, nine, 10 years in this league. So--


JEVOHN SHEPHERD: --you're right. Zach LaVine, is he capable? More than capable, and probably a bigger threat than DeMar at this point. But that's just-- you know, that's mileage and motivation at this point in their careers.

AMIT MANN: Yeah. And that previous match-up with the Raptors, won by I think 4 or 5, it was kind of a close game against the Bulls. And now, since they got Patrick Beverley, they do have a bit more compete to their game, a bit more snarl, aggression, which is good for them. But in the end, you still have Alex Caruso and Patrick Beverley as your back court. I think that is still what they're rolling with, or at least that's probably how they're closing games. And maybe Patrick Williams factors into that sometimes, but that's pretty small.

And size is a problem. It's going to be a problem.

JEVOHN SHEPHERD: And you know, you add Patrick Beverley to that mix there. And you mentioned Caruso, I think they're great defensively. But they still don't have a-- in my opinion, a lead guard that can get balance you. OK, you need to get LaVine basketball, you need to get Vuc the ball, you need to get DeMar the basketball.

AMIT MANN: It's DeMar doing that right now. Last night, he had like-- last game, he had 17, 6, and 10 against the Lakers.

JEVOHN SHEPHERD: Right, that also takes away from some of the best elements of his game. So--


JEVOHN SHEPHERD: --is that a great addition? That's a good addition? Yeah, sure. Does that move the needle or put them over the hump? I don't think so, because you still need-- and I think that's where a lot of Raptors fans may have gained a little bit more appreciation for Fred this season, because you know, they were hard on him when he wasn't playing well.


JEVOHN SHEPHERD: And not shooting the ball well. But you also do get to see where-- OK, now, when he looks a bit healthier, he's a bit more active, he's a bit more aggressive. It's a world of difference in terms of how this team operates, right? He's one of the-- he's a skilled guy. He's one of the guys that can get the ball into the second line of the defense, has the skill to keep the ball alive and make decisions at the same time, while being a scoring threat.

Now, those type of players is-- you know, you look around the league. And they're really hard to come by. Good guards are really hard to come by. You look at the difference-- look at the difference that Jalen Brunson has made in New York, right? And that's not a subtle change. He probably didn't get the recognition he deserved in Dallas. And I think Dallas may be taking heed to that now and feeling some of that now.

But you get him on a Knicks team, and just having that type of guard that can-- again, like I'm saying, skilled enough, capable of making a shot, creating a shot for themself, creating a shot for others, create the ability to use a ball screen, get to that second line of defense and help others, there's a lot of value in that.

AMIT MANN: And again, that Fred and Jak pick and roll has been pretty good for the Raptors. They didn't have to use it too much against the Heat yesterday because of the size mismatch, as we talked about. But the last time that the Raptors faced the Bulls, Fred shot 1 of 9 from 3, 1 of 11 overall, had 3 points. And it was a 6 point game, so you can imagine the impact he would have had had he made some of those shots. It was a struggle-- you know, struggle game. And I guess struggles can continue in the play-in tournament too.

But he is playing pretty well right now, so that's great to see. And also, interesting thing that I learned yesterday. I was with Oren Weisfeld. We were sitting in the top 600 level. And Fred just pulled off this, like, acrobatic layup. And he's, like, man, I wonder what Fred's shooting at the rim over the past little while. And so we looked it up-- 68% since February 1 within four feet from the basket, and on the season, it's 57%, which is a career high. So-- yeah?

JEVOHN SHEPHERD: It's interesting, because he took a lot of flack, a lot of criticism earlier for his inability to finish at the rim.


JEVOHN SHEPHERD: He wasn't shooting the 3 ball at the clip that we're accustomed to seeing him shooting. But you think about that right now. And with Poeltl, who is-- and I believe he still is, shooting the basketball at 60% clip around the rim--


JEVOHN SHEPHERD: --it gives you a big target, a big presence. And if he catches it in those areas, he's finishing it. That's a guarantee. You can just get back on defense. Everybody in white shirts, in Raptor jerseys, get back on defense. And opposing team, set up your offense. Now, you mentioned the connection between he and Fred. You think about that. You have a guy now that you're getting the ball screen action with. And he's rolling to the basket, and he's finishing at a 67% clip.


JEVOHN SHEPHERD: Defenses have to adjust to that. They have to gamble. Are you going to stop the penetration on this drive? Or are you cracking back and stopping this roller, right? It's giving Fred more options. And now when you have that presence and you have that weak side that is shooting the ball better, and Gary being one of those guys, and OG stepping up and making shots, you have that weak side-- you know, has to make a decision, too, where-- are they covering the 3, or are they stepping up on a roller?

That opens up the lanes a bit more for Fred. And it negates that size that-- we often speak about him being an undersized guard, because at that point, it's just him and the basket. He can do that.

AMIT MANN: And you mentioned OG, 18.9 points in the month of March. He's shooting 56%. He's shooting 47/48-- let's round up, 48% from 3 on the month on 6 attempts per game. He's been crazy. He's been really, really, really solid for them. It seems like his hand is all right. Nick Nurse had alluded to that being a problem for him-- his hand, finger, a whole bunch of things. Before it was OG and getting hit in the face, and now it's his hands.

Them be the brakes, but he's been firing on all cylinders. And you just love the idea of-- once Gary comes back, you got Gary on one corner, OG on the other in some sporadic moments in some rotations. But that's going to be a great way to extend the floor, make teams think, make teams really have to make some hard decisions with that Jakob and Fred pick and roll. And if it was the Bulls in the play-in tournament, I think that pick and roll would be used a lot.

And I think it would be pretty, pretty good for the Toronto Raptors. And I don't think Fred's going to shoot 1 of 9 again, yeah.

JEVOHN SHEPHERD: Pretty efficient. And as we're inching closer and closer to the end of the season, you know, you're talking about some of those guys' numbers and the shooting numbers increasing. This is the right time, right? You want to get-- and we--

AMIT MANN: Oh yeah.

JEVOHN SHEPHERD: --OG there. You have two, two out of five top eight guys playing well, three out of the top eight playing well-- well, I think yesterday we've seen four of the top eight play well, right? And if you can continue to increase that number, by the time you hit the playoffs, play-in and hit your stride, we're talking about six, seven guys clicking on every night, every game, where it matters, where it's win or go home. Right, so-- it's always-- you always want to be trending and peaking at the right time in the season.

And I'll tell you. You finish strong, and nobody remembers anything from the last 82 games, or anything from to October on.

AMIT MANN: No, man.

JEVOHN SHEPHERD: So you know, they're going in the right direction right now.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, the starting lineup with Jakob Poeltl, Fred, Pascal, OG, and Scottie, they're in the 79th percentile in terms of point differential as a starting lineup. So that's going to be used a lot in any play-in situation. And in the month of March, the Raptors are fifth in defense, so not too shabby there. They're certainly getting better. And the halfcourt offense remains probably their pitfall at the moment, and they're 14th in that category in the month of March. But there's reasons to believe it's going to get a little bit better.