Raptors enter series with Cavaliers an evolved team

Jay Asser 1/05/2017
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Making his presence felt: Serge Ibaka. Picture: Getty Images.

One year after seeing their best season in franchise history ended at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors are back in a familiar spot and this time with added reinforcements.

Toronto bolstered their roster with mid-season trades for Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker for a series just like this one, which begins tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.

Cleveland have stood in the way of the Raptors reaching the next level, whether directly as they did in the playoffs last year, or by proxy as the East’s assumed top dogs.

Over the past year, there’s been little to suggest any change in the pecking order. The Cavaliers were taken to six games in the conference finals, but were hardly threatened as they outscored their opponents by an average of  15.5 points.

This season’s four head-to-head meetings were much closer, but Cleveland won the series 3-1 and that lone Toronto win came in the regular season finale which saw players on both sides rested.

However, the Raptors can hang their hat on the fact the Cavaliers have yet to see their newly-revamped roster at full strength and playing together. All three of Cleveland’s head-to-head wins came before the All-Star break, when Toronto pulled off swaps for Ibaka and Tucker.

After adding the pair, Toronto went 18-7 to close out the season, improving their defensive rating from 106.0 before the trades to 102.3 after.

No longer a team as heavily reliant on their offence and star-studded backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors will give the Cavaliers another look.

“Just a different dynamic,” Cleveland’s Kevin Love said of Ibaka. “Definitely shooters with both him and [Patrick] Patterson out there. He brings a ton of energy.

“Played really well in round one, so he just gives them a whole different look and a guy who has a ton of playoff experience coming from Oklahoma City. Obviously getting traded from Orlando, but all his playoff experience being there and playing in a lot of big games. He really helps them.”

While Toronto come into the series after a six-game slugfest against Milwaukee, the Cavaliers enter with a week of rest following their sweep of Indiana.

The rest could be particularly helpful to LeBron James, who leads all players in the playoffs with 43.8 minutes per game. “I mean, I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of minutes,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “He had a week off before the series started. We won four straight games, and then he had a week off again. So next [series] he might play 48 minutes.”

Most popular

Winners and Losers after Round 1 of NFL Draft

Jay Asser 28/04/2017
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Mitchell Trubisky.

Forecasting the NFL draft is usually a futile exercise, but this year’s first round was as unpredictable as any in recent memory.

While the number one selection came as little surprise, the rest of the first round unfolded as a guessing game with teams paying hefty prices to move up and snag a quarterback, position runs and questionable picks.

Here are winners and losers of the draft’s first day:

WINNERS

Cleveland Browns

No, the Cleveland Browns didn’t screw up the draft. In fact, the franchise that’s been a punchline for years and years actually made smart moves and came away better for it.

With the number one overall pick, they went with the safest and best player on the board in defensive end Myles Garrett before tabbing safety Jabrill Peppers at No25 and tight end David Njoku at No29.

Aside from netting three high-upside prospects, Cleveland also left with an extra first rounder in 2018 thanks to their trade with Houston, which saw them move down from No12 to No25, where they selected Peppers.

It’s fair to wonder why the Browns didn’t just stay at No12 and take the player the Texans did, quarterback Deshaun Watson, when that’s the position that’s truly keeping them from competing. Cleveland, however, clearly weren’t in love with any of the quarterbacks on the board so there was no point taking one just for the sake of it.

Myles Garrett.

Myles Garrett.

San Francisco 49ers

So far, so good for first-time general manager John lynch.

Somehow, Lynch convinced Chicago to swap their third overall pick for San Francisco’s second for the price of the Bears’ third-rounder, fourth-rounder and a 2018 third-rounder. It was a massive haul for the 49ers, who were never taking quarterback Mitchell Trubisky anyways, and they grabbed the guy they wanted all along in defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

After fleecing Chicago, Lynch later gave up the fourth-rounder he received in the trade and a second-rounder to move back into the first round at No31, where he selected linebacker Reuben Foster. The Alabama product slipped because of a combine altercation and failed drug test due to a diluted sample, but he’s a top-tier talent and a tremendous value at the end of the first round.

Running backs

Two running backs went in the top eight, with Jacksonville taking Leonard Fournette at No4 and Carolina adding Christian McCaffrey at No8.

In today’s NFL, we’ve reached the point where it’s universally known that the value of individual running backs are as low as ever. There are so many talented and versatile backs in the over-saturated market that investing heavily in one, unless they are literally one of the very best in the league, is taking a big risk.

Taking Ezekiel Elliott at No4 worked out great for Dallas last season, but he also ran behind one of the top offensive lines. Fournette and McCaffrey are both can’t-miss talents, but their stock was boosted at least a little by the Elliott effect.

Leonard Fournette.

Leonard Fournette.

New Orleans Saints

They came away with the top cornerback in the draft, Marshon Lattimore, and all they had to do was sit and wait patiently at No11.

This also means a trade for New England cornerback Malcolm Butler is much less likely, but even if Lattimore doesn’t develop into a similar player, the Saints won’t have to give up assets or a big contract.

There may be hope of New Orleans having a much-improved defence yet.

LOSERS

Chicago Bears

They must really believe Trubisky is ‘the guy’ because they sure did spend a lot to get him.

If you truly think you have your quarterback of the future, there’s nothing wrong with going all-in. The mistake Chicago made was they could have just waited to take Trubisky at No3 instead of giving up three picks to move up one spot. If San Francisco was going to take Trubisky, they wouldn’t have made the trade and the fact they were willing should have been a clear indication for the Bears to stay pat. Maybe another team was also bidding for No2, but it’s more likely the 49ers played Chicago.

Mitch Trubisky.

Mitch Trubisky.

Oakland Raiders

At No24, Oakland made the risky decision of pegging cornerback Gareon Conley, who has a sexual-assault allegation hanging over his head.

There’s no doubting Conley’s talent and it’s impossible to ascertain whether or not he’s guilty of the crime he’s accused of, but the Raiders could have waited until the second or maybe even third round to take a player who could face legal trouble or be subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

This was simply a case of taking an unnecessary steep risk too early.

Offensive linemen

For the first time in five years, the first round didn’t feature two offensive lineman going within the first 10 picks. The only lineman selected were Garett Bolles at No20 by Denver and Ryan Ramczyk at No32 by New Orleans.

An outlier year at a position that’s still heavily valued in the NFL.

Most popular

Related Sections

2017 NFL Draft top prospects

Laith Malhas 27/04/2017
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
2017 NFL combine

The 2017 NFL Draft is upon us and teams are ready to go through the grueling process of selecting the right players for their future. This year’s draft has some exciting prospects who have the potential to become not only key figures for their chosen franchise, but to emerge as the latest star of the NFL.

The NFL draft is the process of teams selecting eligible college players, who are evaluated and scouted throughout their playing years at their respective universities and colleges. As in all American sports leagues, the lowest seeded teams get to pick the top-ranked players in the draft, in an attempt to improve their struggling teams.

Draft picks may be traded between franchises on the night of the draft, as each team has ten minutes to make their pick for the first round. Time dwindles to seven minutes in the second round, five and four minutes in the later rounds.

Remember, though, being selected high in the draft does not always mean a player will translate that promise onto the next level, these players have put forth a body of work which has catapulted them to the top of their positions.

QUARTERBACKS

DESHAUN WATSON / CLEMSON

The two-time Heisman trophy finalist led Clemson to their first national title in 2016. Watson is a mobile quarterback who can gain chunks of yardage with his legs and can perform in the clutch. His upside is tremendous and will likely be drafted within the first ten picks. As for most quarterbacks, picking up the pro-style offense will take some time.

DESHONE KIZER / NOTRE DAME

Kizer had a 63 percent completion percentage for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns. He has a big arm, is an all around athletic passer and has been able to overcome his lack of experience as a starting quarterback. The 21-year-old is projected to be drafted in the first round and could be selected by the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns or the Chicago Bears, who are all in desperate need of a quarterback.

RUNNING BACKS

LEONARD FOURNETTE / LSU

Fournette is an athletic, powerful runner who has made an impact in the South East Conference. He led the SEC in all-purpose yards as a true freshman and followed up with 1,953-yards rushing and 22 touchdowns during his sophomore campaign. Fournette has the physical gifts to be a star in the NFL, his durability may be a concern due to his rough running style down the field.

WIDE RECEIVERS

MIKE WILLIAMS / CLEMSON

A prototypical wide receiver with tremendous leaping ability and catching skills. Williams is a notch above the rest of the class as his game seems best prepared to translate immediately into the NFL. As any rookie receiver, he will need to be coached up on routes and technique, but this type of talent is hard to pass up for any team in need of a receiver.

TIGHT ENDS

O.J HOWARD / ALABAMA

Howard had his best season in 2015, catching 38 passes for 602 yards. He also won offensive MVP honors for his contributions in the National Championship game when Alabama beat Clemson. He is a raw talent with size and speed and the 22-year-old has the potential to become an all-purpose tight end in the NFL.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

RYAN RAMCZYK / WISCONSIN

At 6 foot 6 inches tall and 310 pounds, Left Tackle Ramczyk is a ground and pound lineman with athleticism and technique. In 2016 he starred for the Badgers and claimed first-team All-Big Ten honors and did not miss a game the entire season. His game is fundamentally sound and could prove to be a solid contributor to an offensive line in the NFL.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

MYLES GARRETT / TEXAS A&M

A physical specimen like Myles Garrett will turn heads and any team in need of a defensive lineman will have Garrett on their board. His combine numbers were outstanding, Myles completed his 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds and recorded a 41-inch vertical jump.

He earned first-team All-American and All-SEC as a junior while putting up 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 11 games. The Uber-athletic edge rusher has the potential to become an All-pro in the NFL, the only knock on Garrett has been his effort at times, many scouts have stated that he takes plays off during games.

LINEBACKERS

REUBEN FOSTER / ALABAMA

Alabama’s linebacker won the SEC championship MVP as he rocketed to elite status in collegiate football. His ferociousness on defense helped him accumulate a team-leading 115 tackles while becoming a playmaker for Alabama. Scouts see pro-bowl potential in Foster and envision him being able to play inside linebacker as well as weak-side linebacker. The combination of his freakish athleticism and sound fundamentals have given Foster a high grade in the draft.

CORNERBACKS

MARSHON LATTIMORE / OHIO STATE

In his first full season without injury, Lattimore recorded four interceptions with nine pass breakups. His overall impact on the team’s defense was felt throughout the year. His explosive play and anticipation give him an upper hand on other receivers. Lattimore has the potential to be a Pro-bowl cornerback and depleted teams will give him a shot even though his experience is limited.

SAFETIES

MALIK HOOKER / OHIO STATE

The Ohio State safety made his first splash in 2016, he made first-team All-American and All-Big Ten after making 74 tackles with seven interceptions. His high impact play and natural instinct make him a threat at the position at all times. Malik lacks experience, however, his ball skills and ability to play within a scheme will help him become a promising NFL player.

Share your picks using #360fans on Twitter or on Instagram or getting in touch via Facebook.

WAYS TO WATCH

You can watch the complete NFL draft on the NFL Network and ESPN. Round one of the draft starts Thursday night at 4 AM UAE time.

Rounds two and three will commence on Friday night at 3 AM UAE time. Saturday night will be the final day with rounds 4-7 of the draft at 8 PM UAE time.

Keep up with all the latest from the NFL draft:

Most popular

Related Sections