The Raptors and Wizards have developed quite the history over the past several seasons. Nobody can forget when Washington swept the Raptors in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. Toronto finally got revenge last season, however, defeating the 8th-seed Wizards in six games.
Toronto earned the number one overall seed in the East last season, and have finished lower than third in the conference since 2014. Despite their regular season success, general manager Masai Ujiri decided it was time to shake things up.
After being swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers last year, the Raptors fired head coach Dwayne Casey and traded away DeMar DeRozan. Casey earned coach of the year honors last season, and DeRozan is Toronto’s all-time leading scorer.
They traded DeRozan and center Jakob Poetl to San Antonio, acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in exchange. Leonard is a former finals MVP and All-NBA talent, and will certainly give the team a two-way presence they have lacked.
While the Wizards opted to retain their core, they also re-tooled in the offseason. How do these two Eastern conference foes match up?
John Wall vs. Kyle Lowry
While Wall and Lowry are perennial all-stars, they are two very different players. Nevertheless, both bring irreplaceable value to their teams.
Lowry has developed a reputation as a scrappy, gritty player. He stands at just 6’0 tall, but can hold his own against many larger players. Like Wall, Lowry does not shoot a high percentage from the field, hovering just over 40% for his career. He does, however, hold the advantage as three-point and free throw shooter.
Wall took a step back last season, although he played in just 41 games due to a knee injury, which affected his play. Once he returned and was healthy during the playoffs, his numbers rose significantly across the board. Compared to Lowry, Wall is the superior athlete and playmaker.
Their scoring and defensive abilities are comparable. Wall has gotten the better of Lowry in many of their head-to-head matchups, however, and has peak levels that Lowry cannot match.
Edge: John Wall
Kyle Lowry vs. John Wall on the fastbreak pic.twitter.com/FmXt7m5cy4
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) April 26, 2018
Bradley Beal vs. Danny Green
After being acquired from San Antonio, Danny Green is expected to slot in as the Raptors starting shooting guard. Green was a vital piece on the Spurs championship runs a few seasons ago, but has not been the same player since.
Green still holds value as a defender and three-point shooter. However, he offers little outside of these two areas. Green lacks ball-handling skills to create his own shot, and has never averaged more than 2.0 assists per game. Over the past three seasons, he has shot under 40% from the field.
Bradley Beal is clearly the superior talent and all-around player. Beal holds significant advantages as a scorer, rebounder and defender. He has hovered around 23.0 PPG over the past two seasons, and took on more playmaking duties last year, averaging a career-high 4.5 assists.
It will be interesting to see if Kawhi Leonard, rather than Green, will be Beal’s primary defender in the Wizards-Raptors matchups this season.
Edge: Bradley Beal
Otto Porter Jr. vs. Kawhi Leonard
Whereas the Wizards may have had the advantage at this spot in the past, that is no longer the case. The Raptors trading for Kawhi Leonard took many by surprise, as they were not considered one of the front-runners in the sweepstakes.
Leonard played just seven games last season as he dealt with a mysterious leg injury, but appears to now be healthy and motivated following a fresh start. Arguably the best two-way player in the league, Leonard is a versatile scorer and lockdown perimeter defender.
In 2016, Leonard averaged 25.5 PPG on 48.5% shooting from the field and 38% shooting from three. The former finals MVP is a crafty offensive player capable of creating his own shot. While Otto Porter does many things well, he is not on the same level has Kawhi.
Edge: Kawhi Leonard
Markieff Morris vs. Serge Ibaka
Morris and Ibaka are fairly similar in terms of physical makeup and ability. Both stand at 6’10, however neither are great rebounders at their position. Last season, Ibaka averaged just over six rebounds per game. Morris corralled 5.6 boards per game.
Although Ibaka took slightly more attempts from distance, both Ibaka and Morris eclipsed 36% shooting from three. They’re both adept at spacing the floor and knocking down spot-up jumpers. Morris may have a slightly better post-up game. However, defense is where they differ significantly.
While he is longer the dominant presence he was in Oklahoma City, Ibaka is an adeuete defender and rim-protecting presence. Last season, Ibaka averaged 1.3 blocks per contest and averages 2.2 for his career. Morris, however, has never averaged 1.0 blocks per game in a single season.
Their offensive games are comparative, but Ibaka is the significantly better defender and a slightly better rebounder. Thus, he has a slight advantage.
Edge: Serge Ibaka
Dwight Howard vs. Jonas Valanciunas
Before the Wizards brought in Dwight Howard this offseason, the Raptors would have the advantage at the center position. However, things become more interesting now with Howard in the fold.
Entering his seventh season in Toronto, Valanciunas has not taken the leap many Raptors fans thought he would. In fact, his numbers have changed very little over the past five or six seasons. While this consistency is admirable, it’s hard to argue he has a bigger impact than Dwight Howard.
Howard may not be the dominating presence he used to be on both ends of the floor, but he remains a solid center in today’s NBA. Last season, Howard averaged more points, rebounds, and blocks than Valanciunas.
They’re somewhat comparable in the sense of their old-school, modern play styles. However, Howard is a more impactful defender and rebounder. Despite being six years older, Howard is also a more athletic, above-the-rim player.
Edge: Dwight Howard
— NBA (@NBA) July 27, 2018
Bench & Reserves
Raptors: Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, O.G. Anunoby, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam
Wizards: Tomas Satoransky, Austin Rivers, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jeff Green, Ian Mahinmi
Toronto had one of the most productive bench units in the league last season, led by their dual-point guard duo of Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright. They return their same rotation, with sophomore O.G. Anunoby now moving to the bench.
Anunoby will boost an already talented group of reserves. Washington re-tooled their bench by bringing in Austin Rivers and Jeff Green, who both figure to play a big role in the Wizards’ rotation this season. Rivers and Green can play multiple positions and bring versatility to the roster.
While the Wizards bench could be far more productive this season, but it remains to be seen just how much of an impact the acquisitions of Green and Rivers will have. The Raptors bench unit is proven and talented, which gives them the advantage.
Edge: Toronto Raptors
Despite winning coach of the year honors last season, the Raptors opted to part ways with Dwayne Casey. To take his place, Toronto promoted assistance coach Nick Nurse. Nurse has been on the coaching staff for several years and is known as an offensive-minded coach.
It’s certainly possible that Nurse proves to be a great hire and an effective head coach. However, until this is proven, the Wizards are presumed to have a slight coaching advantage. While he has his flaws, Scott Brooks has far more coaching experience than Nurse, which is important.
Edge: Scott Brooks, Wizards
Toronto Raptors: 3
Washington Wizards: 4