Fixing the Frontcourt: Finding help for the Raptors at center

Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports

The NBA offseason will kick into high-gear over the next couple of days with the free-agency moratorium set to begin on Monday. With rumors flooding twitter and the draft now behind us, NBA front offices are focusing on the free-agent pool and trade market to improve their roster.

Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri face an important and busy week ahead of them with several questions surrounding the futures of Kyle Lowry and even Pascal Siakam. Another position the Raptors will be looking to improve on will be their front-court.

Following the loss of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol last season, the Raptors rolled the dice on Alex Len and Aaron Baynes. The experiment turned into a disappointment as Toronto struggled mightily in the paint, finishing bottom four in the NBA in points in the paint per game (43.6), as well as bottom=three in rebounds (41.6).

With Ujiri admittedly taking blame for the center production at the end of the season, the Raptors will surely be active in a deep market of free-agent centers.

The Raptors have been linked heavily to restricted free-agent Jarrett Allen, however the Cavaliers will have the right to match any offer made to the 23-year old big. Landing Allen would be an absolute home-run for the Raptors after a career-year last season (click here to read our analysis of an Allen signing).

If Toronto is not able to secure Allen, here are a few other potential big-man that Ujiri and co. could be targeting.

Richaun Holmes

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Holmes has seen his career blossom in Sacramento the past two seasons and is in for a huge payday after a career-best season last year. He has been rumored to Toronto as well and would certainly be a great addition for the team, while also coming at a high price.

Holmes averaged 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and over 1.5 blocks per game last season with the Kings. At 27 years old, he has developed his offensive game, shooting 64% from the field last season and remains a force on the defensive side of the ball. Holmes has always been great in the paint, ranking top five in high-value rim protectors this past season.

The signing would immediately fill a glaring need for the Raptors, although upon proving his worth with Sacramento, Holmes will be looking for upwards of $20 million per year with his new team.

Nerlens Noel

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Nerlens Noel is another name that has been linked to the Toronto Raptors over the past week. Noel would be a solid signing for Toronto and would warrant a far cheaper contract then Allen or Holmes.

The former sixth overall pick out of Kentucky in 2013, may be looking for his fifth team in nine seasons but will bring a veteran presence and strong intensity to any locker room. Noel averaged only five points per game and six rebounds per game last season, but was a tremendous force defensively.

The only center in the NBA to average over two blocks per game and over a steal per game, Noel was a big part of the Knicks defense, who were one of the best in the league. He finished third in the NBA, only behind Myles Turner and Rudy Gobert in total blocks this past season.

Noel would be an affordable option for the team and an excellent defender to bring into the fold for Toronto, providing a solid duo, if they did want to pair him with Siakam.

Kelly Olynyk

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With a chance to add more Canadian talent to the roster, why not take a serious look at Olynyk?

After being traded to the Rockets in the Victor Oladipo deal, Olynyk impressed in the final 27 games of the season. Averaging 19 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4 assists per game during his time with Houston, Olynyk showed he can be a productive player when given meaningful playing time and was the best player on the NBA-worst Rockets team during the last month or two of the season.

He is a vastly different player then Holmes or Noel in the sense that he is far more offensively gifted. Olynyk is a play-making big who can create space and shoot from anywhere on the court. He is an excellent free-throw shooter and will provide an offensive spark to any team he joins.

Olynyk will be looking for a slight raise in comparison to the 4 year, $50 million contract he signed with the Miami Heat in 2017.

Khem Birch

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Re-signing Canadian Khem Birch seems like a no-brainer for the Toronto Raptors. After signing on with the team in April, Birch immediately proved his worth, having several career-best performances in his 19 games with the team.

Depending on which route the Raptors go this offseason, including their questions at guard and whether they sign a big fish such as Allen, Holmes or even Noel, there may not be enough cap room to re-sign Birch. Even with Aaron Baynes likely on is way out.

Alongside Freddie Gillespie, Birch drastically improved the Raptors frontcourt upon arrival. He averaged 12 points per game, 8 rebounds and over a block while also improving his shooting. The big-man has a ton of room to grow under Nick Nurse and the Raptors development program.

Birch will also not command a ton of money and should be a priority for the Raptors to re-sign if it is possible given their various other moves.

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