Bulls vs. Raptors Play-In Preview: Who’s big men will win the battle down low?
Bringing Jakob Poeltl back via trade was an absolutely necessary move for the Raptors, especially as it has allowed Pascal Siakam to slide back to his more natural role at power forward. Their team is now structured in a far more balanced manner and has become that much more dangerous. That being said, Poeltl doesn’t have the ability to take games over the way two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic can. Whether or not we’ll get that version of Vooch remains a massive question mark, but the Bulls definitely win out in the star power department here.
Star Power: Bulls
Although Vucevic’s 11 rebounds per game are perhaps a deceptive overestimation of his actual rebounding ability, his presence in the paint has been a big boon for the Bulls. Despite averaging just 9.1 total rebounds, his 3.2 offensive rebounds to Vucevic’s 1.9 help paint a clearer picture of who the superior player on the boards is.
What really tips things in Chicago’s favor, however, is the presence of Andre Drummond. Leading the NBA and posting a career-high rebounding percentage, Drummond has been nothing short of historically good on the boards this season, and is the x-factor that tips things in the Bulls’ favor here (so long as he’s given enough minutes to make a large enough impact).
If you can recall, Poeltl was actually a highly rumored potential trade target for Chicago at last year’s trade deadline and subsequent offseason. Although the addition would have made sense on paper, one of the biggest counterpoints to the idea of trading him revolved around the fact he would not start over Vucevic. The reason for this is simple, Vooch is a significantly more talented player on the offensive side of things. We’ll see if Poeltl’s defense can neutralize that in a head-to-head setting,
Nothing splits the Bulls’ fanbase online quite like critics who complain about Vucevic’s porous defense and sympathizers who insist he’s not all that bad and he rates out decently well according to the advanced metrics. To be honest, the truth almost certainly lies somewhere in between, and it’s impossible to ignore the significant boost Vooch has received by having an elite perimeter defense in front of him. If we’re comparing these players in a vacuum, I’d feel much rather with Poeltl as the defensive anchor. Toronto gets the nod here on defense.
The Raptors traded for Poeltl for a good reason, their center rotation is seriously lacking. I still like Precious Achiuwa as a long-term prospect, but when it comes to his preparedness for this upcoming postseason, there’s no way I’d favor Achiuwa over Drummond in a head-to-head. The Bulls’ depth at center is an obvious advantage here.
It makes me incredibly nervous typing this out, but the Bulls should have the edge at center tomorrow night. At least on paper, Vucevic has all the skills necessary to make this a lopsided affair down low, but whether or not he’ll live up to those expectations is the question everyone’s asking. Fortunately, Vooch has found much more consistency and has all the motivation he’ll need to perform as he’s sit to hit free agency this summer. Hopefully, that’s enough to help the Bulls seal the deal against the Raptors.