Here we go again.
The Toronto Raptors head into the 2013-14 NBA season with very low expectations once again after a disappointing 2012-13 season. Analysts have predicted various things, but the common trend seems to be a low seeding in the Eastern Conference. This is also a season new GM Masai Ujiri will use to determine the direction that the team will head in, and there is a good chance that the decision will come mid-season.
With the 2016 All-Star game being hosted by Toronto and Drake becoming affiliated with the Raps, the pressure to return to respectability is on.
From a Raptors fan’s point of view, things are always going to be a little bias, however there are always reasons. With that being said, this is yet another year that’s nearly impossible to predict as there are too many possibilities.
In case you missed it, the Raptors added D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough, Dwight Buycks, Austin Daye, Steve Novak, and one of Carlos Morais, Juylan Stone, or Chris Wright.
Augustin assumes the role of the back-up PG, and is an experienced player that has proven to be solid on both ends. Novak is a much needed sharpshooter that can be inserted for stretching out the defense when Gay or DeRozan can’t get anything going, while Hansbrough should be a fantastic first big off the bench. The rest aren’t likely to receive regular minutes.
On the flip side, they lost Andrea Bargnani, Alan Anderson, John Lucas III, Linas Kleiza, Mickael Pietrus, and Sebastian Telfair. After dumping Calderon last season, the Raptors officially parted ways with the Euro era by dealing Bargnani and amnestying Kleiza. With regards to Bargnani, it was an up-down relationship, however he will be remembered by the latter. Regardless, it’s finally time to move on and that may be the biggest change this season.
To sum it up, Bargnani is gone, the bench is much improved with the core remaining the same.
Earlier, I wrote about 5 reasons that this team should improve, and I stick by them. Therefore, it’s easy to derive that I believe the Raptors will finish with more than 34 wins (their 2013 total), however if all goes well, the improvement may be more drastic than expected.
For all to go well
Rudy Gay will need to absolutely thrive in his first full season with Toronto and earn an all-star appearance for the first time in his career. The LASIK surgery and weight gain will hopefully have rejuvenated his game and he will prove his worth as a number one scoring option offensively. DeMar DeRozan will have to continue his idolization of Kobe Bryant and start to consistently use that post-fade shot he’s been working on.
Additionally, DeMar or Rudy will need to start hitting his threes at an above average rate. The tandem has the potential to be very tough to stop offensively, and needs to blossom into a premier (at least top 10) 1-2 punch.
It’s hard to believe that Amir Johnson is only 26 years old. You always know what you are going to get with Amir – a gritty, hard working big that will do the dirt work. With that being said, this is his first year as a full-time starter, and there is still room for growth. If Amir can expand his offensive game and average a double-double this season, it would be immeasurably huge for this squad.
Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross will both need take the next step in big ways. Valanciunas is regarded as a superhero among Raptor fans, however he struggled heavily at times last season. Defensively, he was often a step late. Offensively, he was often out of place. This is common for a rookie big man and even more so for someone coming from overseas. Valanciunas appeared to be more comfortable towards the end of the year, and will need to continue to progress.
Contrarily, Ross was quite underwhelming last season. He showed flashes of solid play, but could never pull it all together. That could have been due to eccentric minutes, but playing time certainly isn’t going to come any easier this year. Ross will have to earn every minute, and we can only hope his game has acclimatized and he’s ready to step up.
On the other side of the spectrum, if the team performs poorly initially, newly acquired GM Masai Ujiri and his lack of sympathy may dump the majority of the roster and rev the engine for the tank.
If all doesn’t go well
MLSE prez Tim Leiweke emphasized the need to avoid the middle of the pack (ie 9-12 seed range) and if they are projected to finish in one of those slots, Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose could very well be right – Rudy Gay may be dealt for virtually nothing. If Gay plays at the same efficiency rate as last year, don’t be surprised if he’s dealt before the trade deadline. DeRozan could very well be in the same boat, however I would expect the Raptors to keep DeMar around as he’s still quite young.
The Raptors could very well end up as a bottom feeder if all is pretty much the same, and Gay is dealt. After all, the core is the exact same as last season – internal development is the major factor driving differentiation here.
There is one x-factor that I believe will play the biggest part in determining which side of the spectrum the Raps land on, and that’s Kyle Lowry.
If you’re a frequent reader here, I’m sure you have read something from me involving Kyle Lowry. The bottom line that the guy is a straight up stud. He fills the statline, plays hard-nosed defense, can steal, rebound, and can get to the rim with the the best in the league. Lowry had a poor season last year due to poor usage by Dwane Casey, injuries, and to top it off, he was out of shape.
This offseason, Lowry dropped 15 pounds. He said himself that he was disappointed in his play last year, and him and Casey are now on the same page. I sincerely believe Lowry is a top 10 point guard in the league, and this will be the year he shows it. If we see the real Kyle Lowry, expect the better option to play out for this team. If not, he will more than likely be dealt as he’s an upcoming free agent and Masai will not give him the ‘point guard of the future’ status if the team struggles.
The rotation will definitely look different this season. Expect to see Ross receive more consistent minutes, however he will certainly have to earn them. With Landry Fields and Steve Novak, Ross will have to scrap for playing time. Additionally, Augustin is assumed to take the role of the back-up point guard, but knowing Dwane Casey, Buycks will receive a chance some games (hopefully we don’t see anymore 2 PG line-ups). Someone such as Quincy Acy could receive spot minutes as well, especially with Casey’s eccentric rotation.
Rudy Gay is poised to play more power forward this year with his added bulk, with hopes to achieve what Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James did last season.
PG: Lowry (32 min), Augustin (16 min)
SG: DeRozan (36 min), Ross (12 min)
SF: Gay (26 min), Fields (10 min), Novak (10 min) Ross (2 min)
PF: Johnson (20 min), Hansbrough (18 min), Gay (10 min)
C: Valanciunas (32 min), Johnson (16 min)
Prediction- 44-38, 6th in the East.