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NBA 2015-16 Team Previews: Toronto Raptors – Northern Rising

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Toronto Raptors

Our NBA 2015-16 Team Previews continues with the Atlantic Division. Next up it’s time to break down the Toronto Raptors:

Record:  49-33,  4th in the Eastern Conference, 1st in Atlantic Division, Failed to make playoffs

Rank: Offense: OffRtg: 108.1 (3) Defense: 104.8 (23) Differential/Net: plus +3.2 (10) Pace: 95.4 (20)

2014-15

Key Stats:

  • Top 3 offense in the NBA
  • Dropped out of top 10 defense performance in first half, plummeting to 23rd
  • *Jonas Valanciunas lead the league with 0.7 points per front court touch (ahead of Drummond, B. Lopez, Davis and Jordan). Of all players who attempted 500 shots he ranked 8th in effective field goal percentage and 13th in free throw rate. The Raptors failed to take advantage of that as he ranked 228th in the league for front court touches despite his efficiency. Among starting centers he ranked 25th in front court touches over 36 minutes. * as per John Schuhmann.

Off Season Moves

Key Areas Needing Addressing:

  • Re-commitment to defense
  • Better ball and player movement/less iso-ball
  • Development of talent like Bruno Caboclo and rookies  via the new Toronto D-League Team: Raptors 905

Draft:

  • Delon Wright selected with the 20th pick
  • Norman Powell selected with the 46th pick of the second round by Bucks in a trade for Greivis Vasquez plus a 1st round protected pick of 2017

Player Additions/Players Re-Signed:

Players Exiting:

2015-16

Core Players:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola, Jonas Valanciunas

Key Reserves:

Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Bismack Biyombo

Outlook

Rising Star:

Cory Joseph donned the co-captains hat this past summer for the Canadian Men’s team and gained valuable experiencing winning the game that guaranteed them another chance at an Olympic berth. He hit the finally two shots that won the game and took the blame for the loss to Venezuela. He’s about to have a break out campaign and here’s saying it shouldn’t be surprising if by year end he’s in the Most Improved conversation.

On The Bubble:

Many in the T-Dot are wondering which Terrence Ross the Raptors get this season. He began his pro career showcasing a great 3 point shot but never developed his drive game. Pundits weren’t sure if that was him being afraid to get hit or something in his head. The weird part is looking at DeRozan you almost wish you could give DeMar the athleticism of Ross who never took to developing his natural ability the way DeRozan did with his.

Perhaps the question Raptor fans should be asking is will a low ball rookie extension contract (which is what the Raptors should offer) coupled with a bench role inspire him to utilize his amazing athleticism. Now he has Norman POWell behind him aching for minutes and despite coming in close to 3 inches shorter in height has an addition 4 inches in reach on Ross and WON’T shy away from contact or defending. The good news is the revamped reserve unit already has chemistry and I’m actually hoping Casey returns to his hockey line-up because I love the idea of: Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo forming the bench brigade.

Last season Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez shot Toronto into games, this season the bench unit will get them back into games with their defense and versatility. Terrence Ross has an opportunity to replace Lou Williams scoring playing against other bench units and he returns to his natural shooting guard position. The real question is will Ross step up and finally showcase a consistent game or will he go down in history as “that guy” on the Raptors who won a slam dunk competition and scored 51 points on the Clippers?

X-Factor:

Bismack Biyombo was noted for his defensive abilities, but he’s been a revelation in camp and preseason. Though Toronto lost a fan favorite with Amir Johnson leaving the Raptors were able to get 3 players (Jospeh, Scola and Biyombo) for essentially the same price. Biyombo won’t score like Johnson, but he’s already demonstrating amazing skill sets via strong rim protection, rebounding and captaining the defense. He’s a no nonsense guy who’ll affect the players around him simply because he never stops competing. Playing alongside players of the same mind set (Joseph/Johnson) that is sure to win a few games the Raptors might otherwise be out of.

Best Case:  The Raptors are expected to win their division and finish anywhere from 2nd through 8th. Most pundits rank them in the 3-5 range which sounds about right. Though the team still want to record a 50 win season  and get home court this season will only be considered a success if they move out of the first round in the playoffs.

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Worst Case:  Injuries strike and the team can’t produce enough offense. Of they get to the post season healthy and lose again.

Prediction:

As soon as midnight struck on July 1st to open free agency  teams lined up to meet with big name front court draws of LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Greg Monroe. Raptor G.M. Masai Ujiri decided to go in a different direction (though they did meet with Aldridge) and made 2-way forward  DeMarre Carroll his first priority. Given Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler were expected to re-sign with their existing clubs  (and did) it was a smart choice as few quality small forwards were available.

Ujiri was quick and decisive in all matters choosing to let all 6 free agents walk. The loss of fan favorite Amir Johnson was hard, but the club picked up Joseph, Biyombo and Scola for just $800k more than Johnson will make this season.

The Raptors earmarked a return to defense as the off season priority and every move starting on draft night reflected that direction. Many were surprised reigning 6th Man Lou Williams wasn’t even offered a contract or that Vasquez was traded. In hind sight replacing them with Cory Joseph and 46th pick Norman Powell is a definite upgrade defensively and with the quality of ball movement we’ll get from these two as well as the opportunities created (and saved) on defense it’s got to be considered an upgrade.

When the Raptors made the trade with Sacramento that sent Rudy Gay to the Kings and brought in 4 players (Greivez Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons) it was assumed the raptors were intent on tanking to try to get the Andrew Wiggins pick. What happened was the team inexplicably gelled developing an immediate chemistry. Specifically, Vasquez and Lowry worked the duo point guard line-ups late in games to perfection.

Then last season Lou Williams came to the team and after DeRozan suffered his first real major injury of his career the team slowly slide once Lowry’s underdog cap dissipated from the wear and tear. What many don’t know is at one point last season Lowry was playing with lower back pain/injury, ankle and knee issues and had a bump just under his elbow the size of a small grapefruit. He played through all of that. Pull up the game one video from the series last season and watch Paul Pierce in the first minute of play completely ignore the ball and dive on top of Lowry re-injuring his back. The series was lost right then and there. And as much as people want to say the Raptors failed the past two seasons I remind them it came down to game 7 and one shot with no time on the clock.

Going back to what worked 2 seasons ago it was the defense, ball/player movement and Lowry-Vasquez back court in late games. Cory Joseph offers a substantial upgrade and I foresee the two of them finishing games and excelling in that role.

Bottom line the Raptors do better feeling under appreciated and their backs against the wall, so pundits assuming they can’t move up will bode well for them. Though preseason isn’t a huge indicator of what’s to come it does provide insight in specific areas. For example the Wizards led all teams in scoring with their up tempo pace which will carry over to the season. Defensively Toronto stood out and were one of the few teams strong defensively who also managed to register in the top 10 of net rating:

  •  Raptors allowed the 2nd fewest opponent points (88.9)
  • 3rd fewest steals
  • 2nd fewest rebounds
  • fewest offensive rebounds
  • And that Wizards team who scored 100+ in every preseason game averaging 112.3 ppg scored 82 versus the Raptors (30.3 points less than their average!)
  • Last but not least the Raptors posted the 7th best differential of plus +5.9

Toronto’s season will be evaluated almost solely on their ability to get to the second round of the playoffs, but it shouldn’t be. The fact GM Masai Ujiri is committed to keeping the Raptors a defensive minded squad with a young talented core is important. Too often teams abandon their strategy and lose multiple years when the new direction fails. Ujiri didn’t like how the Raptors wavered from the initial defensive direction last season and made swift moves to address it.

With Basketball popularity at an all time high in Canada it’s also exciting for Canadians to have two natives on the Raptors and this writer for one hopes Anthony Bennett can exploit his opportunity of coming home to showcase why he was considered a solid prospect. Through training camp and preseason almost every interview he gave Bennett referenced Joseph who is constantly encouraging him. (another reason I love Joseph.. the natural born leadership qualities he exudes). And of course the Raptors finally have a D-League team located just down the road in Mississauga (depending on traffic a 30 to 40 car ride away) which will allow the team to get raw talented Bruno Caboclo and the Raptors’ rookies plenty of minutes working with the same schemes the varsity club does.

Ujiri made the right moves to position Toronto for the opportunity to make the post season and they’ve refocused their efforts on the proper way to consistently be playing in April with defensive 2-way players.  Like Boston, the Raptors enter the season with their own first round draft pick as well as the unprotected pick from the Andrea Bargnani trade (less favorable pick between New York and Denver) so the We The North contingent will be cheering the Raptors while also praying for a 30th and 29th finish by the Nuggets and Knicks (it’s not out of the realm of possibility).

And yes, the Raptors will get to the playoffs having made a trade deadline addition that bolsters the team helping them get past the first round!

Games versus the Houston Rockets:

  • March 6th at Air Canada Centre in Toronto
  • March 25th at Toyota Center in Houston

Fansided Affiliate Site:   Raptors Rapture

Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the early season. Start your morning with SCS Rocket Science Daily and visit us throughout the day to keep abreast of all your Houston Rockets news and updates.ton Rockets.

Next: Rockets Preview

Next: Celtics Preview

Next: SCS Complete Round Table Sessions

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