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NBA Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

Sep 21, 2012, 12:02 PM EDT

Raptors Bargnani reacts to a missed basket against the Nets during their NBA basketball game in Toronto Reuters

We wrap up PBT’s Atlantic Division previews this week by going north of the border. Next week we head to the Midwest and the Central Division.

Last season: Sure, a 23-43 record isn’t good. But it really wasn’t that bad. Seriously. Sure, the Toronto offense was dreadful and would have been the worst in the league had it not been for the Bobcats setting historic records for futility. It was frustrating for Raptors fans because Toronto has talent — Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan can score — but it didn’t show up much on that end of the floor (in part because Bargnani missed half the season with injuries).

But here is why there is hope — new coach Dwane Casey got Toronto to play defense. Pretty good defense. They went from the worst defense in the league two years ago to a respectable 12th in the league last season (101.5 points per 100 possessions). And the Raptors played hard, the effort was there every night. They didn’t have much talent but you could see the framework of a solid foundation being built.

Key Departures: Not many. Leandro Barbosa is gone, but they don’t need him anymore. After that the guys going away are people like Rasual Butler. No key players departed this year.

Key Additions: This is why there is hope — Toronto had a good offseason. It’s like they add two lottery picks to go with some nice free agents. After another year in Europe, 2011 No. 5 pick Jonas Valanciunas is coming to Toronto — and Raptor fans are pumped about this one. Last season they lacked a good defensive presence in the paint and Valanciunas is expected to provide that. And a few points would be nice, too. Toronto also has this year’s No. 8 pick, Terrence Ross, plus Quincy Acy coming aboard.

However, the biggest acquisition will be Kyle Lowry, the point guard who played at an All-Star level in Houston last year. Lowry can drive, score, set guys up, do just about everything pretty well. Plus, he’s in a contract year with something to prove. Toronto also added Landry Fields (remember Bryan Collangelo’s attempt to screw up the Knicks with a poison-pill deal — so they couldn’t sign Jeremy Lin — but it backfired and now the Raptors have Fields).  The Raptors also signed John Lucas III.

Three keys to the Raptors season:

1) Just how good is Jonas Valanciunas going to be? Toronto fans are pumped about the young Lithuanian big man — more than one fan in Cleveland screamed “noooo” when they drafted Tristan Thompson in front of Valanciunas. Because Valanciunas has the upside, the potential to be special — he was a defensive force at times in Europe and has dominated age-restricted international tournaments

But I watched him a fair amount during the Olympics and I’m not sold he makes a big impact out of the gate in Toronto. He can play some defense, but he needs to get stronger. His offense was a mess. His coach described his play as the game looking like it was moving too fast for him, and that’s what it looked like. He looked hurried, rushed. He can get over that with time, he can still be very good, but he looked like a project and this season may be a lot of work without a lot of fruit from the garden.

2) Just how much better is the Toronto offense going to be? The Raptors are not going to finish 29th in offensive efficiency this season, not with Kyle Lowry running the show at the point (and Jose Calderon behind him, who played very well last year). With Lowry driving the lane, with DeRozan slashing from the wing and with a healthy Bargnani shooting away from deep the Raptors are going to be better on offense.

The question really is how much better and how can Casey fit all the pieces together? While the Raptors are certainly a deeper squad they are building for the future and that means giving quality minutes to young players — rookies Valanciunas and Ross will both be in the heart of the rotation, Ed Davis is entering his third season, and while DeRozan has been around longer it is just his fourth season and he still plays young at times. Developing chemistry is going to take some time but the Raptors need to find a rotation that both can win and grow a young team.

3) Cut down on the turnovers. While Calderon played well for Toronto last season they had the fifth highest turnover percentage in the league — 14.8 percent of their trips down the court ended in an empty possession, a turnover. Theoretically you can win that way (the Thunder had the highest turnover rate in the league) but you make it a lot harder on yourselves. And while they bring in Kyle Lowry he’s not a guy known for taking care of the ball.

Last season the Raptors were third worst in the league in turnover differential. Their margin for error is not so big that they can keep it that high for another season. They need to take care of the rock.

What one thing should scare Raptors fans? Have you seen the Atlantic division? They play in a division with the Celtics, Knicks, Nets and Sixers — four playoff locks. It’s going to be hard to overcome that group for the next couple years unless the Raptors make some big leaps forward.

How it likely works out: Toronto fans are thinking playoffs. And that’s not out of the question — but everything has to go just right. Valanciunas has to give them a defensive presence they need in the paint from day one. Bargnani needs to play like he did at the start of last season and stay healthy. Lowry needs to play like he did last season. Terrence Ross needs to adjust to the NBA quickly. And so on down the line.

The Raptors likely are in the mix for the eight seed for much of the year, with teams like the Bucks and Cavaliers. They will give Raptors fans hope. But things never go as smoothly as one would hope and most likely the Raptors just miss out on a playoff spot this season and will look at this as a building year.

Prediction: 38-44, finishing like the ninth or 10th seed in the East. The Raptors are building something good but it’s going to take a couple more years to get all the way there.

  1. paleihe - Sep 21, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    Toronto Raptors Season Preview

    Lottery team.

  2. mydadyourmom - Sep 21, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    Nets a playoff lock?? Why?

    • 00maltliquor - Sep 21, 2012 at 8:29 PM

      Why not??

  3. tcclark - Sep 21, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    This seems a little generous. Here are the teams that I see are easily in front of them.

    in no particular order: Bos, Phi, NYK, Nets, Mia, Ind, Chi, Atl

    That’s 8. now here are the teams that i think SHOULD finish in front of them:
    Mil, Was, and possibly Det

    I think Washington is going to be much improved. They now have a much more mature group, a defensive minded group. I think Wall, Beal, Ariza, Nene, Okafor is a pretty solid starting five. Milwaukee has good scoring from the backcourt and a defensive minded coach. they should be fighting for a playoff spot. Detroit is a question mark, but I think they’re talent is better than Toronto. Greg Monroe is a very underrated center. If people are going to mention Hibbert with Bynum, I think they need to mention Monroe as well. They’ve also got young talent in Knight Jerebko, and Drummond that could be something special if they play well this year. Detroit has a high ceiling but also a really low floor.

    If all of those teams turn out to have better records than Toronto, that puts them at the 12th spot in the East. I think 9 is stretching it a little too far.

    • 00maltliquor - Sep 21, 2012 at 8:31 PM

      My thoughts exactly.

      • tcclark - Sep 21, 2012 at 10:38 PM

        there are a lot more raptors fans than i thought. That’s the only explanation for all the thumbs down

      • borderline1988 - Oct 3, 2012 at 12:12 AM

        He has a lot of thumbs down comments b/c he’s wrong.

        Detroit will not finish in front of the Raptors this season.
        People are excited about Greg Monroe, but let’s get real here. He’s not anywhere close to a game changer, and I’m not ready to bet on Brandon Knight as a successful player in the NBA. The rest of the Pistons are not that good or completely unproven.

        I see your point about Washington – I’d put them on par with Toronto. Ariza and Okafor are nice pickups, but are both not legitimate starters in the NBA. Wall and Beal are unproven at this point. To me, it’s 50/50 regarding who finishes with a better record between TOR and WSH.

        And I like Milwaukee for their defensive toughness inside, but besides for their 2 ball-hogging guards, they have no scorers. Brandon Jennings is not a good NBA player btw. His only skill is scoring, which he doesn’t do efficiently. There’s no doubt in my mind that Toronto has a brighter future than MIL. But I’d say they are better now as well.
        MIL will all apart soon enough. Jennings and Ellis were bad together on the court last season…why anyone would think it would get any better is beyond me.

        Toronto won’t make the playoffs, b/c there is a sizeable jump in talent from teams 1 thorugh 8 in the East from the rest of the pack. But a 9 or 10 seed is perfectly within reason.

  4. leeeroooyjeeenkiiins - Sep 21, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    The Knicks are not a lock. Say what you will about Lin, but he bailed them out as they were on their way to missing the playoffs altogether. He’s gone now along with Fields, who at least provided defensive help. Shumpert is a question mark with his knee and Kidd is no longer a marquee addition.

    Even the 76ers and Nets, while much closer to being locks, still arent guarantees as theyll both need some time to gel with all the new players. Of course this applies to the Raptors too, and as a result I also expect them to finish around 9-11th, likely sneaking into the playoffs the following season.

  5. dysraw1 - Sep 21, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    TOR. i think will surprise a lot of folks this year WASH. CLEV. too. i don’t expect ATL to do so well. CHI. may have problems as well. MIA. BOS. IND.NYK.PHIL.BKLYN.holding down top six,

  6. rocketsbb - Sep 21, 2012 at 9:19 PM

    Umm Kyle Lowry has always been known as a guy who takes care of the ball even when he was coming out of villanova. He was drafted a bit late because of his ability to make shots, but he’s worked on that and is a very good all around player.

  7. torontofalcon - Sep 22, 2012 at 12:28 AM

    I know you guys like to hate on the Canadian teams, but other then, boston, philly, nets, and atlanta. Raps have had the best offseason in the east. Them and wash will contend for the 7th and 8th seed

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