2012-2013 Atlantic Division Preview: Toronto Raptors

"I'm rich, bi-atch!"

You know Joe as China Joe, the creator of some brilliant Fanposts this summer, and now he'll be contributing some stuff to the front page, beginning with these Atlantic Division previews. We're delighted to have him on board. -Seth

Hello all. Many of you P&T'ers know me as China Joe from this summer's "China Joe vs. Paul Chillsap Fanpost Feud." I begged Seth for a shot at the big time, and he thankfully agreed. Clyde-willing, I can live up to this site's reputation for top-notch Knicks bloggage. The following is part one of my four-part preview of the Knicks' Atlantic Division foes. Let's start with the Boys from America's Hat, the Toronto Raptors (Les Raptors de Toronto)

I think it's fair to say that the Knicks have endured enough poison pill drama to last the next hundred-or-so offseasons. The Lin saga received by far the most attention, and I have no intention of flogging that dead horse. Instead, I'd like to focus on the other poison pill casualty of this offseason.

Landry Fields is no longer a Knick. He is also no longer poor. The story of Landry's new 3-year/$18.75 million contract is a Shakespearean tragedy of unrequited love. Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo spent much of the offseason in a desperate pursuit of Steve Nash. The tryst ended in the way of most other doomed romances since the dawn of time - with the hero poisoning himself while his beloved runs off to hooks up with the LA Lakers. Nash, you hussy!

How did Landry's contract figure into the mix? Colangelo overloaded the Raptor's offer sheet in hopes that the Knicks would match, taking them out of the running to sign Nash. Oops. There's a trick to working with a poison pill: it's much better for you and your cause if it's taken by other people. Colangelo challenged Knicks' GM Glen Grunwald to a battle of wits, a battle which he lost.

In fact, I managed to get my hands on a copy of an email sent by Colangelo to Grunwald just after the Knicks received Toronto's offer sheet. It seems as if Colangelo doesn't quite understand the mistake he's just made:

Dear Glen,

You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - the most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-know is this: "Never go against a Sicilian when cap space is on the line. HAHAHAHA"

Grunwald's response was nothing short of brilliant. He filled in Landry's spot with former Bull Ronnie Brewer. You could argue that Brewer has been better than Landry the past two years - he's topped Landry in both PER and Win Shares, if that's your thing. Most importantly he brings a skill that the currently Shump-less Knicks desperately need - a gifted wing defender with quickness. Better yet, he signed for the veteran minimum of "way less than Landry Fields is being paid." This is the kind of move that great franchises make: when a complimentary player becomes overpriced, they go out and replace him with a player of similar-or-better value at a lower cost. It's no surprise that it received so little attention in the media - the Lin fiasco was just so much juicier - but it should pay dividends from Game One.

So what shall become of Landry Fields? It's hard to feel bad for a guy who's making a run for the Canadian border with nearly $20 mil. That's a lot of loonies (but only half as many two-nies.) Even if the Knicks had matched the offer, Landry would probably have been better off in Toronto. It's no secret among Knick fans that Landry's struggles coincided rather eerily with Carmelo Anthony's arrival. Perhaps Landry can get back to playing the Landry Way - cutting to the basket for ferocious dunks and putbacks off missed shots. If he can return to the number he put up before the all-star break in his rookie year - 10PPG and 7 RPG on 50% shooting and nearly 40% from the 3 - then his contract will go from being "absurdly overpriced" to merely "overpriced." Besides, this is the team that watched Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh turn down big-money extensions - what the hell has cap space ever gotten them?

Landry's new teammates ended last season on a high note, beating the Nets in the Toronto Mega Bowl - a matchup of 22-43 teams to determine who would avoid last place in the Atlantic. If they had been using English Premiere League rules, the Nets would have been relegated to the D-League...where they belong!

In his first season, coach Dwane Casey helped improve team defense from dead last in '10-'11 to 14th last year. The offense, however, was another story: they finished above only the Bobcats in offensive efficiency...and scoring more points than the Bobcats is about as impressive as scoring more points than St. John's.

What caused Toronto's offensive ineptitude? The answer is clear - an overreliance on the metric system. Good offense is reliant on good spacing, and how can a Canadian team full of Europeans achieve proper spacing when using decameters, or whatever? Our American system of measurement is the greatest system ever devised by man. Here, check it out. Marvel at the complexity. We can even use cubits, the same measurements Noah used to build the Ark. And nothing will ever top the barleycorn. Have you ever seen the film Hoosiers? Imagine how much more effective Coach Dale's "Measure the Rim" speech would have been if he had said, "Six-thousand-three-hundred-and-eighty-nine barleycorns - I think you'll find those are the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory." These rest-of-the-world types don't know what their missing - When coach Casey calls a play out of a timeout and tells Linas Kleiza to start out one fathom from the baseline and then set a pick 3 shaftments from the top of the key, the poor rube probably doesn't even know what the hell the coach is talking about.

Measurements aside, there is hope for the Raptors offense going into '12-'13. Andrea Bargnani missed half of last season due to injuries. According to Zach Lowe the Raptors graded out as average last year with Bargnani on the floor.

And that's before we factor in Toronto's offseason additions. As much as I like to make fun of Colangelo, he flat-out stole Kyle Lowry from the Rockets during Crazy Daryl's Everything-Must-Go Summer Sales Bonanza. It might not have gotten as much press as the Nets' trade for Joe Johnson, but Lowry was every bit the player Johnson was last year...not to mention five years younger and, at $6 million per season, nearly four times cheaper:

Rk Player Season MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL TOV PTS
1 Joe Johnson 2011-12 35.5 7.1 15.5 .454 2.1 5.4 .388 2.6 3.1 .849 3.7 3.9 0.8 1.9 18.8
2 Kyle Lowry 2011-12 32.1 4.5 10.9 .409 1.7 4.5 .374 3.6 4.2 .864 4.6 6.6 1.6 2.8 14.3
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/9/2012.

Joining Lowry in the Great White North will be Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, perhaps the most heralded rookie not named Anthony Davis. The Raptors grabbed him with the fifth overall pick in 2011 even though they knew he’d be stuck in Europe for another season. The kid is supposedly legit, though the last time he played a competitive game, in the quarterfinals of the London Olympics, he and his future Raps teammate Linas Kleiza were both thoroughly outclassed by the greatest center in the history of international basketball, Timofey Mozgov (FOREVER A KNICK!) The Raptors took shooting guard Terrence Ross with the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft, so they are essentially adding two top-ten rookies to their lineup, which is two more than any other team in the division. Now, it’s hard to count on rookies, and Dwane Casey needs to find the right mix of players, but they’ve pretty clearly upgraded from last year. The Knicks will find no cupcakes north of the border in 2012…only Tim Horton’s donuts, which are also pretty tasty.

How will the Knicks stack up? Hopefully better than they did last year. The Knicks split the four-game season series, and they needed a Jeremy Lin buzzer-beater to win one of those games. Jeremy Lin, as you may have heard, is no longer a Knick. The main culprit was the offense - the Knicks scored 360 points in those four games, with a 106-point "explosion" on March 20 mitigated by a 79-point huge steaming dump taken just three days later. Let me see: 360 points in four games...

...please bear with me while I do some calculations...

Ninety points per game? Against the Raptors? Come on guys, I know I said they were improved defensively, but improved still don't mean good. If the Knicks want to take the next step toward a top-four playoff spot, they'll need to do better than a split this time.

So how can we, the fans, psych ourselves up for these Knicks-Raptors matchups? The trick is to whip yourself into a wild patriotic fervor. Let's face facts: these match-ups are the closest thing we'll get to the Olympics in the next four years...only without all those cute under-aged gymnasts to make us feel all dirty and uncomfortable. How dare Canada still have an NBA team - aren't they satisfied with having 23% of all the NHL franchises? And they need to stop adding all these random "u's" to words when playing 'Murica's Game. It's not "colour commentator", it's "color commentator." It's not "basketball court", it's "basketball cort." U-S-A! U-S-A!

Unfortunately, we have to wait until February 13 for their first regular-season match-up. Damn, that's such a long time...and I've already patriotized myself somethin' fierce. Perhaps I need to go cool down by watching Patton on DVD. Until next time.

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