The Toronto Raptors have revamped their roster in hopes of improving their fortunes come next post-season. The Raptors parted ways with five players including six-year Raptor veteran Amir Johnson. With the new players like DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Bismack Biyombo in the mix its clear Masai Ujiri is focused on improving and establishing the team from a defensive standpoint.
During the 2013-2014 season the Toronto Raptors showed a glimpse of what their identity could be for the foreseeable future. The team ranked 7th in opponents points per game and 10th in their defensive rating. These Raptors exemplified grit and demonstrated the determination to prove their naysayers wrong. The 2013-2014 Raptors were driven to out-compete their opponents night in and night out. That can’t be said about the 2014-2015 Toronto Raptors who seemed to lose their identity along the way last season.
The Raptors’ formula to success in the 2013-2014 season came from team-oriented basketball. Their formula to success last season came with an easy schedule in a terribly weak Eastern Conference.
With the acquisitions made by Ujiri this summer the Raptors should see a return to that same style of basketball that brought them unprecedented amounts of success. Basketball where the defense triggered the offence, and instead of isolation dominated possessions – players would actually move when they didn’t have the ball.
Last season, the Raptors ‘improved’ offensively and fell off defensively…way off. They lost their edge and dropped to 19th in opponents points per game and 25th in their defensive rating. With their defensive deficiencies they still managed to win the Atlantic Division and finish the season with a franchise best 49-33 record. The Raptors had a franchise best record, and their fan attendance was increasing so it would appear that the Raptors were in fact improving.
Unfortunately this was not the case.
The Raptors were winning with a broken system. The 2014-2015 roster was still a team assembled to stop the financial bleeding caused by the contracts of Rudy Gay, Andrea Bargnani and even Landry Fields. The over-achievement of the team during the regular season once again created lofty expectations for the 2014-2015 postseason which ended up serving as a harsh reality check to show that the current roster had maxed out their potential.
With all the moves that have been made over the past couple of seasons the Raptors esentially still have their core in tact. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross are holdovers from the 2013-2014 season. Take that into account and the Raptors only added Lou Williams and James Johnson hoping those players could push the Raptors over the top for the 2014-2015 season– which is ridiculous.
The signing of DeMarre Carroll was the first major move to correct the Raptors’ system. With Ross moving back to the bench, Carroll will allow DeRozan to play the shooting guard position without the worry of having to guard other small-forwards.
Carroll will bring a renewed sense of energy to the Raptors this season as a player who takes pride in his defensive game. The only player with that mentality last season was James Johnson. Carroll’s a blue-collar player who can get the crowd hyped from a hustle play as opposed to hitting a deep buzzer beater.
How does Carroll contribute to the Raptors system moving forward?
The usage for DeRozan and Lowry will stay considerably high (52.35 USG% over last two seasons), as that’s where a majority of the Raptors offense comes from. However with Carroll, the task should be considerably easier for the backcourt duo.
Amir Johnson, Ross and Williams were the main culprits last season for letting the ball die when it came into their possession. Johnson didn’t have much of an offensive game, so he was often given a heavy cushion by his defender. Ross lacked focus, resulting in a consistently inconsistent style of play – and by the time Williams got the ball, the possession was essentially over. However with DeMarre Carroll the ball wont stop moving.
Carroll has a high IQ at the 3-spot, so he won’t get caught ball watching his teammates on an isolation. Lowry will be able to run the pick and roll game knowing he’ll have another option slashing towards the basket on his drive. Carroll could even be a small-ball pop option for Lowry off the pick. DeMar DeRozan will benefit from the additional floor spacing so he’ll be able to settle into the post on smaller guards.
DeMarre Carroll could’ve very well been an All-star last season with the Atlanta Hawks. With the Raptors, expect Carroll to use his size and versatility to allow Lowry and DeRozan to become more consistent with the type of shots they’ll create. Furthermore he’ll fuel the Raptors on the defensive end of the court, hopefully improving on their levels of visible intensity from last season.
In the second half of the 2013-2014 season, the Raptors defence replicated a hungry college team. For what seemed like the entirety of the 2014-2015 season, the Raptors defence resembled that of hometown team on the And-1 mixtape tour.
Carroll is coming off an exceptional season with the Hawks where he averaged 12.6 ppg and 5.3 rebs on an Atlanta Hawks team that won 60 games playing team oriented basketball under Mike Budenholzer.
The Raptors lacked players with intangible skills last season. In the offseason Ujiri focused on attaining ‘system players’ like Carroll, Cory Joseph and Luis Scola. Players who do the things that don’t appear on the stat sheet.
Scola is coming off of a couple solid seasons playing for Frank Vogel in Indiana where they went the Eastern Conference finals. Scola is the most under the radar pick-up for the Raptors, but he will provide more offence than both Amir Johnson and Tyler Hasnbrough combined.
The Raptors had arguably one of the best backcourts in the entire association over the 2014-2015 season with DeRozan, Lowry, Greivis Vasquez and Williams. Vasquez and Williams are both players who are capable of starting on other NBA teams however these are players that require the ball in their hands to be successful.
Exit Vasquez and Williams.
Insert Joseph, Delon Wright and Norman Powell.
With the addition of so many defensive minded players, many naturally questioned where the offence is going to come from for the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors let go of “professional shot-maker” Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez. The two players had a combined usage accounted for 46% of the Raptors offence while on the court. The problem with these players being primary options is that they had terrible shooting percentages. The only Raptors with a worse field goal percentage than Williams and Vasquez were Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nougeria.
To fix the system the Raptors needed to offload players that didn’t fit the team oriented mold moving forward. Vasquez and Williams could get shots up, but when it came down to dig in on the defensive end, they always came up short leaving their teammates in difficult situations. Lou Will was undersized in most of his defensive matchups and often got blown by stronger, explosive guards. Vasquez was just slow.
Dwane Casey doesn’t give much to rookies, so Wright and Powell will be bouncing between Raptors 905 and fighting for every minute they earn. Which leaves Pickering native, Cory Joseph to man the primary backup point-guard duties. With Joseph the Raptors are getting a point-guard with championship pedigree and a great motor. His offence isn’t built on dancing with his defender around the perimeter, but by attacking his defender head on. Joseph is unselfish so he’ll look to get his teammates involved before finding looks of his own.
Gone are the days of excessive transition three-pointers without anyone to crash the boards. What Joseph will bring to the Raptors offence is high-percentage field goal attempts and exceptional decision-making. Joseph isn’t the type of player to typically settle for a bad shot. Joseph will also be able to play off the ball, so Casey can deploy his coveted double point-guard lineup.
Joesph’s been conditioned to play stellar basketball with some of the best coaching the NBA has ever seen. Joseph will pressure ball handlers, get in passing lanes and push the rock to the rim in transition.
Don’t sleep on Scola either just because he’s 35 years old. Scola isn’t on the Raptors to be a bench warmer, he’s here to be a presence. He primarily operates with variety of crafty post moves and flash face-ups so the ball is not likely to stick in the hands of Scola as he’s an exceptional passer out of the post. Scola has the experience to make the right decisions under control – he’s an Olympic Gold medalist for Christ’s sake.
Bismack Biyombo won’t really bring anything offensively to the team, but will thrive as a defensive anchor for Toronto. Biyombo is the best shot blocker the Raptors have had since Ed Davis – which isn’t saying much. A physical specimen standing 6’9, 245lbs, Biyombo will bring energy, energy and more energy. Think of Biyombo as a Pops Mensah-Bonsu or Pape Sow with more size and potential. Biyombo’s hard-nosed style of play will have him become either a Raptors fan favourite in no time.
With the loss of players like Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes and Joe Stiemsma, the Raptors have a deeper pool of capable talent. The likes of Powell, Wright, Lucas Nougeria and Ronald Roberts Jr. will be fighting for those spots. Hopefully players 10-12 on the roster will be able to provide meaningful minutes instead of becoming decorated cheerleaders for most of the season.
The moves made by Ujiri this offseason will revive the ‘Pound the Rock’ culture the Raptors established in the second half of the 2013-2014 season. The added size to the roster will let players shift into their natural positions in order to maximize their capabilities on the court. The Raptors rid themselves of players that didn’t move the ball and had questionable shot selection at best. More possessions will be freed up in favour of team basketball encouraging a style of play that hopefully reflects the Spurs and the Hawks.
The Toronto Raptors of 2015-2016 will be nothing like the team the world saw falter in the playoffs. Expect this team to have a surge in overall team field goal percentage as the players they’ve acquired orient their game on getting to the rim. The Raptors will see their renaissance by bringing energy, improving their ball movement and a re-commitment on the defensive end of the court.