Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Toronto Raptors


This is Part 18 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.

Tale of the tape: Wolves and Raptors split two close games last year, with both teams taking the wins at home.

What’s New?

The only Canadian team in the NBA didn’t change much during the off-season. No wonder. Even though they have been really lucky during the playoffs last year, the accomplishment of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals is just as valid, as if they have swept their opponents in the first two rounds. Therefore, retaining their key players was the most important objective for the Raptors. And they certainly managed to do that.

Key Losses

Luis Scola

The Argentinian seemed out of place in the Raptors. He mainly just shot threes on offense — and not that well, either.

He was consistently late in his defensive rotations. Of course, there have been some good moments, especially regarding his ability to draw offensive fouls, but when he started spending more and more time on the bench in the playoffs, it was almost clear that Scola won’t be staying in Toronto.

It appears that the veteran did make the right move leaving the Raptors and going to Brooklyn. At least there he will certainly get consistent playing time.

Bismack Biyombo

A much more substantial loss. When the Raptors’ top center, Jonas Valanciunas, suffered an injury in the middle of the playoff series against the Heat, Biyombo stepped up. And although his free-throw shooting often seemed even worse than DeAndre Jordan‘s, his physical strength and rebounding abilities were a major factor in Toronto’s success last year. It’s unclear if any of the current backup power forwards or centers on the roster are capable of effectively substituting JV while Biyombo certainly was last season.

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Key Additions

Jared Sullinger

The former Celtic should be a solid replacement for Luis Scola. He has struggled in the playoffs so far, but has also proven to be a reliable role player in the regular season. With those qualities, he’ll fit right in with the Raptors team.

And with most of the pressure coming Demar Derozan’s or Kyle Lowry‘s way in the playoffs, Sullinger will have all the opportunities to show everything he’s capable of.

Jakob Poeltl

The Austrian is a bit of a mystery. He will probably start as a backup big man, replacing either Valanciunas or Sullinger off the bench.

It’s hard to predict at this point exactly how valuable is he going to be in his rookie season. After having great averages for Utah last season, he became a shadow of himself during crucial playoff games. In the elimination game against Gonzaga, which Utah lost by a score of 82-59, Poeltl collected five points and four rebounds.

In turn, his opponent, Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis had a great night with 19 points and 10 rebounds. If Poeltl wants to excel in the NBA, he will need to play more consistently — especially during important games.

What’s The Same?


Even though there had been rumors of DeRozan leaving for the Lakers over the summer, he decided to stay in Toronto. Maybe it will be for the best, and maybe not, although it looks to be a solid move as of right now.

Of course, DeMar is an All-Star and the face of the team. And while Toronto reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year and probably wouldn’t have done it without their starting guards, the duo of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry did more harm than good for the team for much of the early playoff series.

While getting rid of one of them might reduce their chances of repeating the journey to the Eastern Conference Finals, it could help fulfill the potential of other players, especially Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and Corey Joseph.

Right now, I don’t see Raptors even repeating their last season’s accomplishments this season. With such a predictable offense, a top-four team is probably the absolute limit for this team as currently constructed. Letting one of their star players go could change that in the long run.

Related Story: Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Knicks

Jonas Valanciunas

Valanciunas is a very talented player; there is no doubt about that. He was the best Raptor in both of the first round match-ups in last year’s playoffs — before the injury. After that, he turned into a shadow after coming back into rotation against Cavs. And while that may have been due to the fact that he wasn’t fully recovered, his form in the Olympics while playing for Lithuania was just horrific.

Of course, JV does seem to be much better suited for NBA basketball than the international game. And if we don’t count the shooting percentages, he is gradually improving his counting stats every season.

If Valanciunas manages to keep this trend going, he may even become an All-Star once he reaches his peak. But for that to happen, something will probably have to change in the team’s philosophy. Or Valanciunas himself may have to change the team, which he says he’s more than happy with. For now.

Key To Victory

Make them “shoot bricks”.

Let’s look at the statistics of the two encounters between the Timberwolves and Raptors last season.

Both times, the Raptors’ second unit had much higher +/- ratings than the starters, who largely had negative scores in both games, and ultimately were the difference during the game in Canada, which the Raptors managed to win. Why is that?

Well, mainly because the offense of the second unit is much less predictable. With Lowry and/or DeRozan on the floor, the vast majority of their attacks end in either one of the All-Stars playing one-on-one.

Sure, occasionally they involve other players like JV or Ross, but that’s usually when they are unable to shoot the ball themselves. The goal should be to let them shoot those shots with hands in their faces. They love playing hero-ball and if it isn’t one of their nights (which ultimately helped Raptors win both of their playoff series last year, even after both Lowry and DeRozan played absolutely horrible for the major part of those rounds), they will likely drown their whole team.


Playing smart and playing as a team are the most important things against the Raptors. Fast-break offense can also be a crucial factor, as Raptors were one of two slowest paced teams last season. If Wolves play strategically and stay concentrated on defense, I can even see them taking both games here.

Next: Timberwolves Season Series Preview: Spurs

The first of the two games will take place on December 8th at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.