Just as we all predicted, the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets are the two best teams at the All Star break. No surprises here: Both teams were universally acclaimed as the best in their respective conference. They both wear red, which obviously means something, and both their names start with R, which has been one of the Top 10 letters since the turn of the century.
What can we learn about these two first place teams since they are destined to meet in the NBA Finals? (Please say “duh” out loud.) Are they mirror images of each other? Or, are they imaginary reflections of each other? Did the second question mean anything? Are you wondering why I think these two RED, R teams are eerily similar to each other? Let me blow your mind real quick with an idea bomb made from epiphany fire and genius thoughts: Count how many letters are in each team’s name. Go on, count.
That’s right, friends. THEY EACH HAVE 15 LETTERS! Wait, 14 LETTERS! THEY EACH HAVE 14 LETTERS, SPLIT IN HALFSIES, SO EACH WORD IS 7! SEVUM! LETTERS! LONG! BOTHUVUM! And, how long is an NBA Finals series? Exactly. Sevum games long.
I feel like that should be enough to convince you, but if you’re a hater, then here are some other eerie facts about these two mirror/twin teams.
First, both of their point guards have a first name with a K sound, Kyle and Chris.
Both teams are based around their backcourts and their guards, and both rely heavily on the three point line—they’re both in the top 5 in the NBA in 3 point attempts. Both of their shooting guards score 20+ points per game and are their team’s focal point on offense. Both point guards, Chris Paul in Houston and Kyle Lowry in Toronto, are OVER THIRTY YEARS OLD, NOOOOOO! HOW CAN THIS MAKE SENSE, SOMEONE OVER THIRTY IS GOOD AND THEIR TEAM IS SUCCEEDING EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE A TOTALLY REASONABLE CONTRACT THAT THEY ABSOLUTELY EARNED?! I can’t believe it, a basketball team winning in this day and age with “old” players on “bad” contracts. Who’da thunk it was possible?
Anyway, both PGs are also considered top 10 at their position, and they both average 6+ assists per game. The Point God, Chris Paul, is absolutely very much obviously better than Kyle Lowry. But, that’s an unfair comparison: CP3 is better than most players in NBA history (plus, neither of them are anywhere near as good as me). Just because Chris Paul’s elite-elite doesn’t mean that Lowry isn’t SUPER FANTASTIC. (Lowry used to be on the Rockets, too, by the way.)
So, this is basically the Spider-Man meme of possible NBA Finals. It’s too bad the Morris twins don’t play for each team. I was raised to believe that identical siblings should be set against each other as much as possible, preferably in some kind of dome or arena or finished basement. (Being able to shout “Twin Fiiiiight!” and “Mirror Battle!” is an incredible way to make money and meet new people, by the way. Also, “Mirror Battle!” isn’t just Archimedes favorite thing to say, it’s also the best/cheapest way to find out which one of the twins is good and which is evil. Most identical twin fights end in the twins destroying each other because when “our” universe’s twin touches the mirror universe’s twin, the resulting matter vs. antimatter explosion annihilates both twins from both universes. Look it up, it’s science. Mirror Battle! is also the name of my Big Hair Glam Rock album. The debut single is, of course, called “Reflections/Kill the Intruder.” Look for it at your nearest Tower Records.)
Will the Raptors and the Rockets disappear in an explosion of deadlights when they meet in the NBA Finals? Because of how samesies they are? Probably. On the off chance that they do not, though, perhaps we should look at each team’s players and see if any of the numbers can tell us anything interesting.
Oh, and one last note before we dive in: If the Rockets and the Raptors actually do make the NBA Finals, then HOLY WHOA, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES FOR THE END DAYS ARE SURELY UPON US. I mean, get real, I full on expect it to be Warriors vs LeBron, Round IV. Don’t you? It would be SO WEIRD to watch a Finals without LBJ. Like, Dennis Hastert was still the Speaker of the House when LeBron made his first Finals. That’s a looooong time ago. (We still have a Republican Speaker from the Midwest, though. That’s three in a row. Are Republican Speakers allowed to be from other regions in the United States? Like a PAC 10 Speaker, is that allowed? Or, it’s only Big Ten country when regarding the leader of the House?)
The Rockets boast two of the best guards in the league, and that is, perhaps, the least accurate thing I’ve ever said despite it being absolutely true. (So, too, “From a certain point of view, I’m the most handsome man who’s ever lived.” Technically true.) James Harden and Chris Paul, the Point God, are two of the best guards, period, anywhere and anytime. The stats say that they’re two of the most valuable players in NBA history, and they’re both certain Hall of Famers. Were it not for the historic Splash Brothers in Golden State, we might consider Houston to have the best backcourt in the league, no question.
The fact that Steph and Klay also have Dray and KD means that our impressions of the Golden State guards is enhanced due to their championship pedigree and all around hyper-incredibleness. However, if you switched the backcourts, I have a feeling that the Warriors, led by Harden, would still have defeated the Cavs 2 out of 3 times. The (legit) argument against this is that Harden and CP3 tend to diminish in their biggest games: CP3 has never made a conference finals, and Harden has either run out of gas, or straight up quit, in multiple playoff series. If Houston doesn’t make the Western Conference Finals, or if the Houston players run out of energy again, then we’ll be blaming Mike D’Antoni’s system (again), despite the fact that he’s done a great job staggering minutes this year. He’s basically got a 10 man rotation going, and everybody’s getting minutes: a full dozen D’Antoni dudes are averaging at least 10 minutes per game.
Harden has been a top 5 player in fantasy for a while (he’s #3 in my league and in ESPN basic), while CP3 is top 30 in both. Meanwhile, Clint Capela looks like one of the best bigs in the game. (He’s also Swiss, which I didn’t know. To be honest, I kinda thought the Swiss were imaginary, like orcs or Republicans worried about the deficit, heyohhhhhhh!) Capela’s been a top 25 player in my league, and a top 10 center overall. Clint Capela’s Average Draft Position was usually in the 60s; in ESPN he was generally drafted AFTER Gorgeous Gorgui Dieng. Which is, in retrospect, both Minnesota Adorable and Dangerously Psychotic. ESPN’s ADP goes like this: Dieng at 59th, Harrison Barnes 60th, Capela 61st, Robert “Bob” Covington 62nd, VICTOR. OLADIPO. 63rd. That is a helluva lot of value for 5th round picks, considering Dipo is one of the best players in all of fantasy, and Capela is top 10 at his position. Gorgeous Gorgui, however, is not having a pretty season. (Bam! Gorgeous joke, Natty!) He’s currently not in the top 150 on the player rater, and he’s playing fewer minutes than at any time since his rookie year. You don’t care, though. Nobody cares. Poor Gorgui. I wanted to make a Poorgui joke, but I’m too sad and it would be over your head and writing it just made me want pirogues (which are actually spelled pierogies).
Anyway, Houston has three top 50 players in Harden, CP3, and Capela. They have FIVE players in the top 20 in three pointers attempted and made, the top scorer in the entire NBA, and a top 10 rebounder in Capela, and TWO of the top 5 players in assists.
As a team, Houston gets to the line, too. They’re second overall in free throw attempts as a team. They also have the second best true shooting percentage, and net rating. They’re beast.
Guess who’s third in just about everything I just mentioned? That’s right, the Toronto Raptors. Led by DeMar DeChozan and his best buddy Kyle Lowry, the Raptors have the best goddamn record in the East. The guards average the most points for Toronto (they’re both top 30 on the player rater, too), and the Raptors as a whole attempt the 7th most threes in the NBA. They’re actually tied with the Rockets rebounds per game (WHOA, EERIE, MIRROR TWINS).
DeChozan adding threes to his game allowed the Raptors to change their style of play: they now whip the ball around and play much more “New NBA” style pace and space (they’re 9th in pace, the Rockets are 10th, WHOA EERIE #2). Both sets of guards are top 30 in assists per game. And, while Harden and CP3 get more defensive counting stats like steals, Toronto has a better overall defensive rating as a team. Toronto gives up the 7th fewest points per game, basically tied with Oklahoma City, though Toronto is also third overall in scoring.
One possible area of difference is OG Anunoby, a rookie forward on Toronto, who somehow has the 6th best overall net rating in the NBA (CP3 and Steph Curry are #1 and 2). Out of all players who average at least 20 minutes per game, OG has the 13th best offensive rating and the 20th best defensive rating. NBA advanced stats are notoriously not great (ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus said that Ian Mahinmi was one of the 20 best defenders last season. That is noooot true. It also had Kawhi Leonard as the 87th best DRPM. Kawhi won Defensive Player of the Year the previous season. Can I ask, what is the point of this statistic if it says that one of the five best defenders in the game isn’t even in the top 75?), so we should take everything with a grain of salt regarding OG. However, the rookie continues to start and the Raptors continue to win. His offense definitely needs work, but, for whatever it’s worth, he has the 13th best true shooting percentage among rookies. OG’s defense helps the guards, DeMar and Kyle, save energy for offense, and you can see that Anunoby could grow into a prototypical 3-and-D wing. Remember, he only fell to Toronto because he was injured for the draft.
The Raptors hosted the Rockets for their only game of the season so far (they play again in Houston in March), and the Raptors defeated Houston 129-113. Chris Paul didn’t play, so this isn’t an accurate depiction of Houston, but it’s the only sample we got this season. OG played 30 minutes and ended with a +22 plus-minus; Ryan Anderson played 31 minutes and ended with a -24. DeChozan went to the line 16 times, Harden 19. The difference in the game was Toronto’s bench, which got 34 points combined from CJ Miles and Delon Wright, while Houston’s bench did nothing, really (Luc Mbah a Moute should start over Ryan Anderson in their second game.); and, CJ Miles sank 6 three pointers while Eric Gordon missed ALL SEVEN OF HIS THREE POINT ATTEMPTS. DAMN.
CP3 playing in their second game may tip the scales enough for Houston to defeat Toronto, but if the Raptors continue their stifling defense, then why can’t they defeat the Rockets? We tend to assume that regular season numbers will translate to the playoffs without any kind of interlocutor accounting for the difference in regular season play versus post season play. Defense is what helps you advance in the playoffs. If Toronto keeps theirs and Houston doesn’t, then why can’t a seven game series have the same result as their one game sample? Houston doesn’t exactly match up well with Toronto:
- Chris Paul is listed as 6’0” on Basketball-Reference.com.
- Kyle Lowry is listed as 6’0”.
- Both Kyle and Chris are career 37% three point shooters.
- Harden is 6’5” and is a career 44% shooter.
- DeChozan is 6’7” and is a career 44% shooter.
- Trevor Ariza is 6’8”.
- OG Anunoby is 6’8”.
- Ryan Anderson is 6’10”.
- Serge Ibaka is 6’10”.
- Clint Capela is 6’10”.
- Jonas Valanciunas is 7’0”.
Height, or lack of, isn’t a killer either way, obviously, but it’s always nice to have a few inches on an opponent. Valanciunas has looked really nice over the past month, too, averaging 14 and 10 on 59% shooting. And, this is where the (possible) series might have an inflection point: Jonas has been a top 20 center all season, at least on offense, and the combination of him and Serge Ibaka (who is also playing well) can probably outduel the combination of Clint Capela and Ryan Anderson. Serge is just a better all around player than Ryan Anderson. And, Serge’s defense (and height) might end up being more valuable in a playoff series than Houston’s power forwards and small ball lineups. No one honestly thinks that Toronto can keep up with Houston’s deluge of three pointers, so why even try? Toronto would (will) probably slow the pace of the game and rely on scoring in the paint and getting to the line. In fact, the series might just devolve into DeChozan and Harden alternating trips to the free throw line, and final scores of 89-85 or 93-92. Or, it could look like an elegant dance between two of the premier basketball artist teams in the realm. Again, their only meeting resulted in a combined total score of 242. We could get spoiled for points with this matchup.
Regardless, both of these teams are elite, in real life on the court, and in fantasy, with guards that can scorescorescore and a fast pace that allows for a lot of other players to get their counting stats. When two elite offenses meet up in the playoffs, the team with the better defense usually defeats the team with the better offense. So, who ya got in the inevitable Rockets-Raptors NBA Finals??
(Also, hold up. Why didn’t Lavar name any of his kids “Disco?” Wouldn’t you rather be Disco Ball than Liangelo Ball? If the Balls had a daughter, shouldn’t they name her Crystal? Am I crazy, or shouldn’t we be having more fun with our names? Man, I’d draft the hell out of a kid named Disco Ball. Who cares if he’s good at orange-in-the-bucket, his goddamn name is Disco Ball. I’d sell a billion jerseys, overnight. I’d be the richest man who ever lived. “Now starting for the Utah Jazz: Disco Ballllllll!” The very phrase “Disco Ball shoes” proves its own worth as one of, if not the, coolest things possible in this or any other universe. GASP! YOU COULD SELL DISCO BASKETBALLS. If there were (still) a God, we’d have disco ball Jordans. But, we don’t. Because He left. He finished watching the entire run of Dexter and just bounced, for good, shaking His head and muttering, “Off the rails much? Consider your shark jumped over, boys. Jesus, I’ve seen 5 year olds with better narrative cohesion than whatever the hell that finale was. Why did people tell me to watch it if they knew that the ending was going to make me regret watching it?? Ugh, people are the WORST! I could’ve been watching my favorite team, the Orlando Magic, have a great surprise season out of nowhere, but NOW?! HELL NAW! I’m outta here, jack! You won’t have God to push around, anymore! Up yours, Mitch Album! Elfrid Payton 4EVER!”)