As the NBA season fast approaches, Right Down Euclid will be previewing all 30 NBA teams, breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of each franchise. This preview will focusing on the Toronto Raptors, who last year had a record of 34-48 and did not make the playoffs.
Team: Toronto Raptors
Coach: Dwyane Casey
General Manager: Masai Ujiri
2012-2013 Record: 34-48
Place in Conference: Fifth in East, 10th in Eastern Conference
Leading Scorer: Rudy Gay (19.5 PPG with the Raptors)
Key Additions: Steve Novak, Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Austin Daye, Masai Ujiri (General Manager)
Key Losses: Andrea Bargnani, Alan Anderson, John Lucas III, Mickael Pietrus, Bryan Colangelo (General Manager)
Since the departure of Vince Carter, the Toronto Raptors have struggled to find an identity and stay relevant in the NBA. Even during the seven seasons Chris Bosh was the team’s franchise player the Raptors only made the playoffs twice, never advancing past the first round. The team had went through several coaching changes and miscalculated on a series of poor draft picks (Andrea Bargnani, Joey Graham) and bad contracts (Bargnani, Hedo Turkoglu, Landry Fields). Former GM Bryan Colangelo was seemingly immune to the consequences of his decisions, and constantly made moves that seemed to blow up in the team’s face almost immediately. However a series of recent moves, including the hiring of former Denver Nuggets General Manager Masai Ujiri to run the team, and the drafting of Jonas Valanciunas are finally giving Raptors fans a reason to be optimistic about the team’s future.
The biggest strength of the Raptors may be the new man in charge. The reigning NBA executive career, Ujiri comes to the Raptors with an excellent reputation and deservedly so. Ujiri began his tenure as GM of the Nuggets by having to deal with Carmelo Anthony’s trade demands. Given the fact that he essentially had to trade Anthony, Ujiri cannot get enough praise for making a trade that kept the Nuggets a playoff team while improving their overall flexibility. Add in the drafting of late first round gems Kenneth Faried and Evan Fournier and Raptors fans should be confident in Ujiri’s ability to lead the team into the future. Already he has been able to trade amnesty candidate Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks for an elite outside shooter in Steve Novak and a future first round pick, potentially improving the team in both the present and future. Among the current Raptors, Valanciunas looks like he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone going forward. Following up a season in which he was named to the NBA All-Rookie second team by winning MVP of the Las Vegas summer league, Valanciunas has a combination of size and skill that can make him a force in the league. Among the other players point guard Kyle Lowry is a solid two-way player, wings Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are big and athletic, and forward Amir Johnson is one of the most efficient and effective big men in the league despite not being a household name.
Rudy Gay is one of the most controversial players in the league, and it has nothing to do with any sort of personal issues. Scouts and old school basketball minds will tell you his combination of size, skill and athleticism make Gay the prototypical small forward, one who can be a force on both ends of the floor and get his shot off whenever he wants. Those who view the game through the lens of the analytics movement view Gay as a player who is overpaid, has an inefficient shot selection, and has never applied his physical tools on defense the way he could. The lack of drop of in the Memphis Grizzlies’ play after trading Gay supports this theory In short, the perception of Gay does not match the reality. Many of these criticisms also apply to DeRozan, and the similarities between he and Gay give the Raptors a pair of relatively overpaid and inefficient perimeter scorers who cannot space the floor. To make matters worse, backup wings Austin Daye and Terrence Ross fit this profile as well. Lowry is a tenacious defender and solid offensive player, but he has had trouble getting along with coaches wherever he goes and always seems to find a way to lose his starting job at some point each season. Johnson’s personal foul rate of 4.7 per 36 minutes is an improvement over previous years, but still too high for a starter playing regular minutes. While Hansbrough and Novak bring positives to the team, the bench is still fairly weak, putting extra pressure on the starters to play heavy minutes and do all of the heavy lifting themselves.
2013-2014 Season Predictions
Despite the team’s overall offensive inefficiency, the Raptors must be considered a dark horse candidate to make the playoffs this season. A starting line-up of Lowry, DeRozan, Gay, Johnson, and Valanciunas can compete with most teams in the league with their blend of size and athleticism. If brought along correctly, this Raptors squad has the physical qualifications to give their opponents nightmares on defense. The additions of Novak and Hansbrough also add important elements of spacing and toughness respectively. That being said, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ujiri blow the whole thing up and rebuild around Valanciunas, particularly is the team starts slowly. While the Raptors are an intriguing team, the ceiling of this group seems to be limited to opening round playoff fodder for true contenders such as Miami and Indiana. Gay and DeRozan are both overpaid and inefficient, despite their physical gifts, but could probably be traded to a playoff contender looking for help, as could Lowry. The status of Gay merits particular watching as he can opt out of his contract after this season and would likely be in demand as a free agent alternative for the teams that miss out on LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Luol Deng. This Raptors season could go in a lot of different directions. Final Prediction: 38-44 10th in the Eastern Conference