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NBA 2016-17 Team Preview: Toronto Raptors – Northern Chemistry

By Tamberlyn Richardson
Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry (7) pose for pictures on media day at BioSteel Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry (7) pose for pictures on media day at BioSteel Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry (7) pose for pictures on media day at BioSteel Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry (7) pose for pictures on media day at BioSteel Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry (7) pose for pictures on media day at BioSteel Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

NBA 2016-17 Team Preview – Toronto Raptors

To prepare our readers for the regular season SCS  offers a series entitled NBA 2016-17 Team Preview for each of the Houston Rockets’ 29 opponents. Who will return to the playoffs? Which team will fall from grace and who will be the Cinderella team?

Included in each profile:

  • Where the team finished 2015-16
  • Key 2015-16 stats
  • Future draft pick status
  • Current and future salary rank
  • Off Season Moves
  • 2017 Free Agents
  • Schedule, NBA League Pass and Win Projection Ranking
  • Team Overview entering season (Starting 5, reserves and notable injuries)
  • When each team will play the Houston Rockets
  • Strengths, Weaknesses and Prediction

NBA 2016-17 Team Previews now looks at the reigning Atlantic Division champs the Toronto Raptors. Armed with a gold medal from Rio, a Eastern Conference finals appearance and an All-Star berth DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have established one of the strongest units in the Association.

Despite a roster that ranks among the youngest squads in the NBA these two stars provide leadership within a core who has spent the last 5 seasons growing and improving. Now as they hope to repeat a history setting season the Toronto Raptors must learn from the past season to take the next step up. With that, SCS dives into the NBA 2016-17 Team Preview for the Toronto Raptors.

NBA 2016-17 Team Preview: Toronto Raptors

2015-16 Record: 56 – 26

Playoffs:

Lost NBA Eastern Conference Finals (2-4) versus Cleveland Cavaliers

Points Per Game: 102.7 (14th)

Opponent Points Per Game:  98.2 (3rd)

Pace: 92.9 (29th )

Offensive Rank: 110.0 (5th )

Defensive Rank:  105.2 (11th)

Three Point Rank:  37.0% (5th)

Rebounds: 43.4  (16th)

Assists: 18.7 (29th)

Steals: 7.8 (15th)

Blocks: 5.5 (11th)

Turnovers: 13.1 (5th)

Next: Future postioning - draft, free agents

Nov 2, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) reacts after being cut on the face against the Washington Wizards in the first quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

2017 Free Agents

Restricted: None

Unrestricted: 

All free agent updates confirmed via Basketball Reference and Sportrak

Future Draft Picks

See Real GM for full details:

Incoming:

  • 2017 first round draft pick from L.A. Clippers L.A. Clippers’ 1st round pick to Toronto (via Milwaukee) protected for selections 1-14 in 2017, 1-14 in 2018 and 1-14 in 2019; if the L.A. Clippers have not conveyed a 1st round pick to Toronto by 2019, then the L.A. Clippers will instead convey their 2020 2nd round pick and 2021 2nd round pick to Toronto [L.A. Clippers-Milwaukee, 8/26/2014; Milwaukee-Toronto, 6/25/2015]

Outgoing:

  • One of 4 teams who have no outgoing draft picks for foreseeable future (others are Phoenix, Orlando and Utah)

Average Age of Team: 25 years (as per Real GM) *tied with Blazers as second youngest team

Next: Off Season Moves

Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) bounces a ball on his head as he waits to have his picture take during media day at BioSteel Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Draft Picks

Round 1: Jakob Poeltl (9)

Round 2: Pascal Siakam (27)

2016 Free Agents

 

Unrestricted:

Incoming:

Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) poses with guards DeMar DeRozan (10) and Kyle Lowry (7) during media day at BioSteel Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

  • Jared Sullinger exits Celtics on 1-year, $6M deal
  • Fred VanVleet was a stand-out in Summer League, Toronto ink him to $50k deal with potential of a longer term deal. VanVleet will arrive in training camp with the potential to make the team or the Raptors 905 D-League squad.

Exiting: 

Re-upping:

Next: Schedule, League Pass, Win Projection Rankings

Oct 3, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) battle for rebound during the third quarter at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Vegas over-under for wins: 49.5

Schedule strength:

As ranked by ESPN: 28th with 3.10 extra wins

The only thing remarkable about the Raptors’ schedule is that it’s laden with Atlantic Division foes, an advantage shared by the Celtics. No other division has a lower average baseline projected win total.

Games versus Rockets:

  • Wednesday November 23 at Toyota Center  in  Houston, TX, at 7PM CT/8PM ET
  • Sunday January 08 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON at 5PM CT/6PM ET

Zach Lowe NBA League Pass Rank: 6th

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan breathe life into a pretty vanilla and sometimes sloggy offense. Lowry heaves the highest-degree-of-difficulty triples outside of Stephen Curry and Lillard, and he is always on his toes, always in motion. Exhale for a half-second after he kicks the ball up top, and, zoom, he has dusted you with a give-and-go cut along the baseline. With Curry and Kevin Durant cannibalizing MVP votes, Contract-Year Lowry could be a stealth MVP candidate if the Drakes exceed expectations. (Note: This is an extreme long shot.)

DeRozan attacked the rim with a new ferocity last season. His midrange touch comes and goes, but he’s good at wriggling into that weirdo floater territory inside the foul line for closer shots. Jonas Valanciunas shot a tidy 48 percent on post-ups last season and became an angrier rebounder. He also boasts the most implausibly convincing slow-mo pump fake in the league.

Next: Team Overview

Nov 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross (31) battles for a rebound against Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi (18) at Air Canada Centre. The Kings beat the Raptors 96-91. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Committed Salary:

2016: $106,413,030 –10th ranked

2017: $98,841,401- 5th ranked

Team Salary Ranking as per Hoops Hype, and team salary overview also via Hoops Hype

Starting 5:

Point Guard:  Kyle Lowry – 21.2 points,   6.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan – 23.5 points,   4 assists, 4.5 rebounds

Small Forward:  DeMarre Carroll – 11 points,   1 assists, 4.7 rebounds

Sep 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey poses with guards DeMar DeRozan (10) and Kyle Lowry (7) during media day at BioSteel Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Power Forward:  *Jared Sullinger – 10.3 points, 2.3 assists, 8.3 rebounds

Center: Jonas Valanciunas – 12.8 points,   0.7 assists, 9.1 rebounds

Reserves:

Guards: Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet

Wings: Terrence Ross, Norman Powell, Bruno Caboclo

Bigs: Patrick Patterson, *Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira

*Suffered broken 5th metatarsal in foot in preseason , Siakam to start in his place

Injury News:

  • Jared Sullinger – foot, suffered a broken 5th metatarsal (Jones fracture) vs Golden State in preseason, had surgery and is targeting January
  • Delon Wright – suffered shoulder injury in Vegas Summer League, had surgery and is expected back late December, but will likely rehab with Raptors 905
  • Jonas Valanciunas – knee, contusion on his knee has kept him out of 2 games

All injury news as per rotoworld

Next: Strengths, Weaknesses, Prediction

Strengths:

All-Star Backcourt: In case you haven’t been watching the Raptors start to the NBA season they’ve picked up exactly where they left off.  DeMar DeRozan is quietly posting 30 point games on a nightly basis and Kyle Lowry continues to be the ever present bulldog leading the charge. Unlike some teams who reach new found success levels these 2 All-Stars returned to camp with improved bodies hungry to take another step up the ladder.

While the argument will continue regarding who is the best backcourt in the NBA (or second to Curry and Thompson) a quick scan of the stats through the first 7 games shows only DeRozan and Lowry rank first, second or third in all key categories of points, rebounds, assists and steals. *Further, they are the only starting backcourt who ranks first in a minimum of one category and  doesn’t rank last in one key category.

*Note: this stat looked at the starting backcourts of Golden State (Curry/Thompson), Washington (Wall/Beal), Portland (Lillard/McCollum), Phoenix (Bledsoe/Booker), Atlanta (Schroder/Korver), Charlotte (Walker/Batum), Chicago (Rondo/Wade) and New York (Rose/Lee).

Continuity: A quick glance around the league finds teams like the Sixers, Lakers, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Jazz and Suns all trying to develop their youth. In the case of the Lakers, Nuggets and Suns they are also trying to do something similar to what the Raptors have done which is to continue to grow their assets surrounding them with quality vets while garnering success. What might surprise most fans is the Raptors and Suns  have the second youngest teams in the NBA. Only the Sixers are younger.

Further, the Raptors are one of only 4 teams (Suns, Jazz, Magic) who own all their own picks through 2020.

That combination of having a young squad who have grown together with all their picks in house makes for a solid future for years to come.

Identity: Make no doubt about it this team knows exactly who they are. While pundits might squawk about the lack of assists a quick review of game film will show why. It’s not necessarily due to a lack of ball movement. Rather, this Raptors squad is arguably the best at setting screens for each other. That leads to easy paths for their 2 All-Star guards to drive, shoot or pass off to an open man.

Defensively the Raptors lock down the paint about as well as any squad in the NBA. Toronto plays with a chip on their shoulders often feeling they get no respect which in fairness they don’t. In almost every preseason discussion or article I read they weren’t even considered among the teams who would finish second to the Cavaliers (unless it was mentioned as a throw away). Cut to present day and the Raptors have just gone about their business already defeating the Thunder, Hornets, Pistons and Heat who as of this writing sat with the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th best defenses in the NBA.

#Raptors have beat Thunder, Hornets, Pistons & Heat who just happen to be 3rd, 4th, 5th & 6th best defenses in #NBA Now THAT is impressive!

— Tamberlyn's Tip-Off (@TTOTambz) November 12, 2016

In addition, DeRozan is using the disrespect of placing 46th in S.I.com’s ranking and 30th in ESPN’s ranking to fuel his passion to continue his offensive onslaught.

Unlike seasons past it’s clear this team won’t just curl up and fade away, they’ll fight you to the very last possession. Whether it’s Dwane Casey or Kyle Lowry the grittiness permeates throughout the roster.

Weaknesses:

Front Court Uncertainty: Losing Bismack Biyombo definitely hurts the Raptors specifically on the defensive side of the court. Biyombo stepped his game up to another level in the playoffs, but remained an offensive problem as teams would simply slack off him, meaning someone else saw a double team.  With Jared Sullinger out injured Toronto will try to utilize their rookies (Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl) with Lucas Bebe Nogueira to help Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson in the front court. Watch for Casey to use a platooning of these 3 bigs.  Siakam for the record brings energy, rebounding, and a high basketball I.Q to the court with the potential to be a far greater offensive threat then Biyombo as he matures. No one expects Poeltl to be a super star, but he offers solid basketball I.Q. soft hands and has shown himself to be a quick learner.

The real question mark is Lucas ‘Bebe’ Nogueira who has demonstrated small stretches of his potential.  Bebe is a true 7’0″ with a massive wing span who has the potential to be a better rim protector than Biyombo. Furthermore,  Bebe is a great passing big with a higher offensive potential than Biyombo. His issue has always been staying healthy and needing to add some strength. If he can stay healthy, the Raptors could have found Biyombo’s replacement existed on their own varsity squad.

Over utilization of DeRozan and Lowry: in the past few seasons as the Raptors rose up the East’s ladder the biggest issue has always been the over utilization of Lowry and DeRozan. Major  in season usage led to the backcourt entering the post season with nagging injuries and fatigued. For the Raptors to arrive at the post season ready to take another step Dwane Casey will need to utilize their youngsters and roster depth more. Ideally, Norman Powell, Terrence Ross and Cory Joseph will all see additional playing time along with the rookies and Nogueira. That would allow Casey to rest his starters especially the backcourt and Carroll who is still on a minutes restriction.

More from Space City Scoop

Health: Last season DeMarre Carroll was the Raptors big free agent signing but he played in just 27 games and was far less than 100% for the playoffs. Even as he arrived at camp this season he was still rehabbing and stating he was around 80%. Toronto will be careful with Carroll’s minutes to ease him back to health, resting him in back to back games.

Delon Wright will be out until late December when he’ll likely be sent to the D-League to get back in game shape. Jared Sullinger will be out at least until January. The Raptors will hope that’s the extent of the injuries they have to deal with this season. If they get everyone back by early January and Carroll continues to progressively improve they could potentially give Lowry and DeRozan some additional cut back on Lowry and DeRozan’s minutes post  All-Star break to get them healthy and relatively rested for the playoffs.

Prediction:

Best Case: utilization of the squads youngsters leads to rapid growth preparing them for post season play. Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas take another step upward allowing less wear and tear on Lowry and DeRozan. Toronto maintains a top 2 Eastern Conference position. If all of this occurs the big test will be getting through the first two rounds quickly so their stars arrive not so fatigued. They’ll still have a hard time getting past the Cavaliers, but a less fatigued Raptors squad with younger depth than Cleveland offers a better shot than last season.

Worst Case: Additional injuries occur forcing Casey to over utilize Lowry and DeRozan who once again arrive to the playoffs fatigued. This leads to an upset in an earlier round of the post season.

While the goal is a finals berth it’s hard to argue the Raptors bright future given Lowry and DeRozan’s strong ties in Toronto, a developing youthful core with draft picks to spare. This team has a solid identity and their eyes are firmly set on proving their critics wrong.

FanSided Affiliate Site: Raptors Rapture

Next: Boston Celtics 2016-17 Team Preview

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