Raptors: Playing with fire at centre

Ryan Grosman
Mar 25 · 5 min read
Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

By @RyanGrosman
Laced / South of the 6ix
March 25, 2019

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”?

Well, it also applies to the NBA.

One misstep. One sudden change in direction. One bad landing. In a split second, a team’s entire season can be altered.

Just ask Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers.

Or one minute your all-star point guard is back in the lineup, just in time to establish some much-needed on-court team chemistry before the playoffs. The next minute an awkward, out of control 7-footer decides to use him to break his fall and he’s back on the DL.

Now, it could’ve been a lot worse. Like season ending worse. But that’s how quickly things can turn in the NBA or any sport, for that matter.

Before Kyle Lowry returned to action vs. the Hornets, Fred VanVleet stepped up big time in his absence, with Jeremy Lin taking up the backup role.

That’s why having depth is so important.

You may not need it in the playoffs when rotations tend to shrink. But it’s an important safety net in case everything goes to hell in an NBA basket.

Which leads us to the Raptors’ centre situation.

Long before Serge Ibaka decided to throw his annual haymakers, this time resulting in a 3-game suspension, I had some major concerns about the Raptors’ depth at the 5.

Nick Nurse and the team managed to scrape by while Ibaka was serving his suspension (and apparently serving Kawhi Leonard food). But it was far from ideal.

What if, knock on hardwood, one or both of Ibaka and Marc Gasol succumb to injury? Or if they play the 76ers and Embiid gets them into foul trouble?

What then?

Ever since Greg Monroe was ousted from the break-in-case-of-fire-last-resort centre spot, the Raptors have yet to replace him.

After Ibaka and Gasol, the centre options get extremely thin — quite literally. Their current third-string option is the lanky Chris Boucher.

If Andrew Wiggins is (or was) Maple Jordan, Boucher is the Maple Tree Branch. He’s that skinny.

And despite Boucher’s 3-point celebration game being NBA ready, he clearly needs a lot more seasoning. And bulk.

After Boucher, the thinness continues with Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. However, employing either one at the centre spot would be strictly matchup dependent.

If, for example, the Bucks play Giannis at the 5 for stretches of the game, then you can deploy Siakam or OG at centre.

Otherwise, at 6–9 and 6–8 respectively, they’re too undersized and can’t rebound well enough to leave them at the 5 spot for too long.

Finally, there’s new 10-dayer, Eric Moreland. In limited minutes, he’s shown some good signs, aggressively going after rebounds and often winning the battle.

But not only is he undersized, he also has no playoff experience.

Actually, he doesn’t have much experience at all. In 5 seasons, he’s appeared in just 82 games, only once averaging more than 10 mins/game.

So, if suddenly thrusted into the backup centre role in the playoffs, can you really trust him?

Sorry. Eric Moreland is not the answer.

So then who is?

Glad you asked. The answer is likely somewhere deep in the heart of Poland right now, just twiddling his thumbs ever since the Clippers bought him out.

That’s right. The Raptors should sign the Polish Hammer himself, Marcin Gortat.

You’re probably laughing right now. But why not?

Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster could scour the G-League and the universe, looking for an experienced, big bruiser like Gortat. Or they could just sign Gortat.

He’s actually perfect for what the Raptors need. Here’s why.

He’s been to the dance before

Gortat has been around a long time — 13 seasons to be exact. And in that time, he’s been a starter for several playoff teams.

One of those teams happens to be the 2014–2015 Wizards who quite easily swept the Raptors out of the playoffs.

Between the Wizards and Magic, Gortat has appeared in 86 playoff games over 7 seasons, averaging almost 21 mins/game.

In other words, he’s no stranger to the playoffs. If he has to, he can absorb a lot of minutes without being phased by the bright lights.

He fits like a Polish glove

If the worst-case scenario happens and they need a backup centre in the playoffs, Gortat can easily fit into the Raptors lineup, plug and play style.

He’s not the type of player who needs plays called for him. Nor does he need the ball to be effective.

You just need him to be big. You know, rebound. Get the occasional put-back. Set screens. Show some interior toughness. Defend the rim. That sort of thing.

Speaking of setting screens…

Gortat happens to be one of the best screen setters in the league. The dude is super crafty.

I don’t know if he has damning evidence on every ref in the league, but he somehow gets away with a moving screen on practically every play.

It’s annoying as fuck. But not if he’s on your team.

He hunts boards

As I mentioned before, you don’t need Gortat to score. You just need him to be big.

That includes getting rebounds. And Gortat happens to good at cleaning the glass.

For his career, he’s averaged almost 8 rebounds/game, 5.8 of which are defensive rebounds — an area the Raptors have struggled with all season.

He’s called The Polish Hammer for a reason

Gortat is a big man.

And if thrust into the Raptors’ playoff rotation, he can provide the interior toughness that the team sorely needs.

All season, the Raptors have had trouble with bigger, more physical teams like the Pistons — a potential first round opponent.

The Pistons feature Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond in their frontcourt, which makes life really difficult for the Raptors and the slender Siakam.

In their 3 regular season matchups (all losses, of course), Griffin overpowered Siakam while routinely getting him into early foul trouble.

In theory, if Gortat was on the roster, you could start both Ibaka and Gasol vs. the Pistons and bring Gortat and Siakam off of the bench. This provides some matchup flexibility, specifically against the bigger, tougher teams.

In the end, the Raptors may never actually need a fail-safe third-string centre in the playoffs. And here’s hoping they don’t. But if something does go wrong and the sky starts to fall, wouldn’t you want a viable option like Gortat on the bench?

The answer is tak. That’s yes in Polish.

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Ryan Grosman
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