Tonight the Pistons are going to be in Toronto to play against the Raptors at 7:30 EST. The game will be broadcast locally on FSD. This is the first game of the season for both teams, and obviously Toronto's home opener.
The Raptors were the 2nd best team in the Eastern Conference last year by a fair margin, being the only non-Cavs team to seperate themselves from the field by winning 56 games, and there is little reason to expect much difference for this year. They return their all star backcourt, headed by Kyle Lowry who is probably the best point guard this side of the Mississippi, last year averaging 21.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. He launches off the dribble 3s in the same vein as Steph Curry and Damian Lillard, and he is a better passer and defender than both of them. His partner in crime is DeMar DeRozan who is back with the Raptors on a shiny new max deal, last year he averaged 23.5 points and 4 assists per game. DeRozan is an old school iso scorer who uses his suririor size and athleticism to back down guys and shoot over them in the midrange, while also drawing tons of fouls when he attacks the basket, he doesn't shoot many 3s though. He is not a great defender, but he can hold his own most of the time.
Beyond their top two players, the Raptors feature a lot of depth. Starting next to the guards is DeMarre Carroll, a excellent 3 and D guy who lost last year to injuries. He is a versatile defender and can also create a little bit off the dribble if a crease is already opened in the defense. I would guess that Patrick Patterson will be starting at PF since Sullinger is injured, and PatPat is a very good shooter at the 4 spot and can play defense as well, think Anthony Tolliver but having a more diverse game. Jonas Valancuinas is the starter at center, and he is still a fairly young behemoth who has a lot of offensive skills, his downside is that he struggles to play defense with much effectiveness, although he has gotten better.
On the bench the Raptors feature on of the better backup backcourts in basketball as well, with Corey Joseph and all of his defense and goofy offensive game alongside Norman Powell, a 2nd year guy who exploded onto the scene last year in a big way with athleticism and shooting. Terence Ross does not have the highest basketball IQ and can be streaky, but dude can put the ball in the hoop at a really high clip when he gets going. Until Sullinger is healthy the Raptors will have a bit of a hole on the frontline behind JV and PatPat and will mostly have to rely on various young guys who will get a chance to prove themselves.
Overall this is a team with a couple of excellent players, on a roster that is pretty deep with guys that are good. It was not a fluke that the Raptors won 56 games last year, or that they have been good for the last 3 years after trading Rudy Gay away. Expect them to be towards the top of the conference when all is said and done.
Matchups to watch:
Pistons vs. Guarding DeRozan: DeRozan is an issue for the Pistons, he is big enough that he gives KCP some real problems, so you would ideally have Marcus guard him. But with Carroll back, there is not a safe place to hide the point guard, especially when it is Ish Smith instead of Reggie Jackson. Finding a way to keep DeRozan in check without opening up too many holes elsewhere will be important for the Pistons, the best scenario would be KCP showing improved strength so he could take him, but until proven otherwise I'll assume that DeRozan will mostly roast him.
Andre vs. JV: Andre is the Pistons best player, and until Reggie gets back there is a very wide gap between him and #2. Simply put, they need Andre to find an extra gear to help carry the team until Reggie gets back, and he will have a good chance to do that in this game. Valanciunas does some stuff on offense that can give Andre problems with his shooting and touch around the rim, but Andre has generally bullied JV in a big way on the boards, and the Pistons should look to pull Valanciunas into as many pick and rolls as they can.
Tobias Harris vs. Expanded role: It is no secret that Harris will be shouldering a heavier offensive burden until Jackson comes back, most noticeably in that Harris is likely now the Pistons main late shot clock scorer. If he takes it in stride and gets the Pistons the extra couple of buckets per game that Reggie got the Pistons last year it will make a huge difference, and also be a good sign going forwards.
Beno Udrih vs. New city, New team: Fortunately he did get at least one practice in, and he has been around enough that he should do ok in his new surroundings. But it is always a bit of a worry when you stick a point guard into a totally new situation with very little time to adjust to his new team. Expect them to keep it simple and have him run lots of pick and rolls while other players do plenty of initiating as well.
KCP vs. Putting the ball in the hoop: KCP shot like crap in the preseason, that doesn't really matter much. The Preseason is now over, and the games count. KCP has got to improve his shot selection and avoid going 0 for.
Andre vs. Putting the ball in the hoop: There was quite a bit of talk about the VR stuff Andre used to try and improve his FT shooting, and it did not really translate in the preseason. HOWEVA, he did not have nearly as many horrible misses as before and did look a bit better. But guess what, until it goes in the hoop, it doesn't matter. If Andre wants to show that the hard work has paid off, now he has to hit them.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Andre is dominating JV on each end.
KCP smothers Lowry and Ish survives guarding Carroll for the Pistons to have their best defensive look.
The ball goes in the hoop for KCP and Andre.
Run for the hills if:
SVG uses an 8 man rotation.
Beno looks pretty out of whack and has a bunch of turnovers.
Lowry is bombing from 3 like the he was in the last preseason game.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Andre mostly locks up JV on defense and looks good on offense.
Beno does just fine.
Michael Gbinije plays.
The Pistons ride big offensive games from Harris and Drummond, and great defense from KCP and Stanley Johnson to a opening night victory.
What do you think? Can KCP hit some 3s? How will Beno look?