What are you going to be doing?
The exact same thing that I did all season long (other than right at the end for various scheduling reasons) for the Pistons. I'll write a preview before each game and a recap of each game. It is not formal or overly in-depth but it will be something you can read while taking a poop.
Why did you choose the Raptors?
The Raptors have grown on me the last few years. Kyle Lowry is awesome, so is DeRozan, no one believes in them, (something Detroit fans 100% connect with) they are really good, and got really good without tanking. Due to the fact that no one believes in them I can also root for a really good team that has a real chance to win the title while still feeling like I'm rooting for the underdog.
You're a Pistons fan why should we trust your opinions?
I watch a ton of basketball all season long. Like, an unhealthy amount. That said, I've probably watched like 20(ish) Raptors games in their entirety. Which is probably a lot less than you have, to counter this I am generally pretty up front with things that I am unsure of. If I say something wrong it is an honest mistake, so just as an example, I'm not sure exactly how good Serge Ibaka is on defense anymore. He clearly isn't the force he once was but is still a plus, I'm just not sure how big of a plus. Anyways, if I say something wrong then tell me I won't be offended. Anyways, on with the preview. This is for the entire series so it will be longer than the game to game stuff. Glad to be aboard.
The Washington Wizards are a confounding team that has the talent to be a legit contender but even without the injuries that have plagued them over the last few years they have not quite been able to get over that hump. John Wall is a brilliant point guard who is a terror on the break, finds open shooters, can get to the rim almost at will, and is one of the more destructive defensive point guards to ever live when he is locked in. Bradley Beal is not as good as Wall (when both are at 100%) but has been the Wizards' best player this season, he is a silky-smooth shooter who can score from just about anywhere on the court, while also being a good enough athlete to take most guys off the dribble and get to the rim to finish with confidence and authority. Beal is also an underrated defender, he isn't a stopper but he is very good.
Beyond the top two guys, the Wizards have a really good starting lineup that fits very well together. Otto Porter is paid more than he should be, but is one of the best spot up guys in the NBA (44.1% from deep, 85th percentile per synergy on really high volume as a spot up guy) who also has surprising shot creation ability when called upon. He is a guy who simply doesn't miss very often despite being able to finish looks from a variety of spots, Porter is not a great defender but he is long, strong, and tries hard. Markieff Morris is not as good off-ball and better with the ball but overall has a similar impact as Porter. He is a solid spot-up guy (36.7% from deep) and can also finish looks inside, the catch is that he is a really good isolation scorer when asked to be so. Per Synergy he ranks in the 69th percentile (nice) scoring out of isolations and 52nd in post ups, with pretty high volume in both categories. If he is able to get consistent mismatches he can suddenly become a huge problem. Marcin Gortat rounds out the starting lineup and is a solid jack of all trades type, he has good hands and soft touch around the rim, can hit short-range jumpers, sets good screens, and is generally in the right place on defense. It is worth mentioning that a lot of the numbers show that he has started to fall off a bit with his age this season and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the playoffs.
Off the bench Kelly Oubre has had a really good season, he is a terror of bouncy limbs on defense and has some off the dribble ability on offense and shot 34% from deep although he finished the year really badly on offense (more on that later). Mike Scott has also revived his career as a skilled power forward and occasional small-ball center off the bench. He is shooting 40.5% from deep, ranking in the 91st percentile as a spot-up player, and can abuse mismatches in isolations. He ranks in the 87th percentile on post-ups and 97th percentile on isolations. Neither are especially high-volume but it is real. Tomas Satoransky has had a good season as well, really breaking out while John Wall was hurt, he is huge for a point guard and has the right skills to play as a wing when they want him to. He isn't a great athlete but is good enough to switch across multiple positions, can shoot, and handle the ball. It isn't clear exactly how good he is, but he is a solid player.
After that it is a bit grim for the Wizards. Tim Frazier, who was supposed to stabilize the backup point guard spot, has been terrible, Ian Mahinmi has shown some signs of life down the stretch but is still very bad while being paid a ton of money, Jodie Meeks can't really shoot anymore, Ramon Sessions doesn't even play, Jason Smith missed a ton of time this year and wasn't good when he did play.
This is a team with a ton of talent, but injuries and underachieving has been a problem this season. Despite the fact that their bench is bolstered a bit this season, their strength still lies in a starting lineup that is one of the stronger in the NBA and the reality is that they just have not managed to get going together all season. This is a team that could put it together at the right time and become dangerous, but as they have been all season they are nothing remarkable.
Matchups to watch:
Will the real John Wall please stand up: He's only played 41 games this season, but even when he has played he has not been quite right. This is coming from someone who thinks very highly of John Wall, his true shooting percentage is just 51.5% (which isn't way out of line for his career admittedly) he's getting a few less free throws, and taking more long-twos (than last year). Most importantly, he has not been the same destroyer of worlds on defense that he often is. If Wall comes out and is the store-brand version of himself that he's been this year then the Wizards should pose little threat, if Wall is all the way healthy and ready to go then the Wizards could become dangerous.
Raptors vs. Beating old demons: The narrative of the Raptors as playoff chokers is overstated, but there is some truth to it in that they have certainly not over-performed. There are mountains of data to suggest that this team is different, but it has to be in the back of some players minds. Taking care of business in the first round would go a long ways I think.
DeRozan vs. Beal: Assuming that Wall is not going to be 100%, these are probably the best player for each team and they will spend a lot of the series matched up with each other. They are each excellent players in different ways. In a vaccume DeRozan is better, but it is close enough that over a series Beal could certainly go toe to toe. If the Wizards want to keep in this they will need Beal to be on his game and hope that DeRozan is a bit off.
Lowry vs. Wall: Regardless of the level of play Wall is at, this will also be a pivotal matchup. They go about it in very different ways but both a brilliant point guards. Lowry has at times had problems with Wall's size and speed in the past, but if Wall is not at 100% and gets lazy chasing Lowry around the court then this could turn sharply in favor of the Raptors behind a flurry of open threes.
Health: Otto Porter and Mike Scott are both questionable for the Wizards, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are both uncertain for the Raptors. My guess is these guys play because its the playoffs, but they may not be totally ready. Even though these are not the stars, each guy plays an important role for their team and it could impact that series in a big way.
Gortat vs. Valanciunas: Valanciunas has had some very good moments in the playoffs as his size and tenacity can totally change the course of a game. In theory, Gortat is the sort of strong and fundamentally sound player to keep him in check but he has not been the same guy this season. If Gortat really does show some signs of age and JV can take him to task this could become a one-sided series very quickly.
Raptors bench vs. Making the most of their time: Benches play less in the playoffs, but it remains a huge strength for the Raptors and the most obvious advantage over the Wizards. Given the lower time they will play, it will be important for the Raptors bench to be on their game to take advantage of every moment they get to ravage the Wizards second unit.
Kelly Oubre vs. Shooting: Oubre has had a nice season which built on a pretty strong finish to last year, but his offense has kind of fallen off a cliff. From the start of February to the end of the season he shot 34.8% from the field and 27% from deep.
Serge Ibaka vs. Markieff Morris: They are pretty close in terms of abilities so I think they will mostly cancel each other out, but they are 100% going to get in at least 2 scuffles.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
John Wall looks kind of slow and tired, and Kyle Lowry is bombing open threes as a result.
This Raptors team is different, past demons are gone.
Playoff Jonas Valanciunas is a real thing and it turns another series.
Run for the hills if:
The trash-bros are a real thing and this Raptors group is never going to get over their playoff jitters.
John Wall is all the way back and in full destroyer mode.
Bradley Beal plays his best basketball while DeRozan is a bit off to give the Wizards an edge.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Valanciunas turns at least one game in favor of the Raptors against a small-ball Wizards lineup.
DeMar DeRozan has the best playoff series of his career.
John Wall is in good shape but not quite there. He does manage to keep Lowry from doing too much though.
The Raptors conquer their demons, prove that this team is different and also a lot better than the past iterations, and while the games are more competitive, this series ends up being a fairly run-of-the-mill 1 vs. 8.
Raptors in 5.
What do you think? Will John Wall be himself? Can the trash-bros conquer their demons?