Training Camp and the pre-season are both officially underway.
The Toronto Raptors are now under full supervision, as the front office has turned heads. With Masai Ujiri leading the way, the team looks to be set (apart from the final roster spot).
With Coach Dwane Casey back for another season, Rudy Gay putting on muscle and fixing his eyes, and Jonas Valanciunas in another summer of development among other things, we’ve got some questions that will determine the success of this season, and ultimately the future of the team.
First, we are going question what the Raptors have in store in terms of their rotation and what certain players are going to bring to the team.
- Will Quincy Acy get consistent minutes with Hansbrough and Johnson? Who knows, but he certainly has the hustle, athleticism, and work ethic to earn minutes from a grueling time of preparation. He showed quite a bit at the end of the last season, and much in Summer League that he’s a guy capable of being a role player in the league for awhile.
- Will Terrence Ross get developing time with guys like DeRozan, Gay, and Fields accumulating more time? Terrence Ross didn’t have a terrific rookie campaign to say the least, however he certainly has enough to make a stand for himself in training camp against the main wings. There are enough minutes to go around with Gay and DeRozan being the only ones locked in, however Ross will have to fight. That 6th man role is wide open, and it would be great to see Ross fill it.
- Does Aaron Gray stay as the match-up against the bigger centres in the league? Yes – despite his skills and what he does on the floor are limited – he proved last season if someone goes down (mainly Valanciunas), he can be a consistent contributor for a short time. Jonas is still inexperienced, and doesn’t have the mass to bang with the biggest yet. People take what Gray brings to the table for granted, however he is certainly a solid back-up option.
- Is Rudy Gay truly a legitimate number 1 option in the NBA? After this past season with the Raptors, he looked much more engaged as a basketball player in a long time, and he’s got a lot of the Raptor fans on his side. Is that really enough though? Well, Rudy underwent a surgical procedure to help fix his eyes, he gained 20 pounds of muscle, and worked with Hakeem “the Dream” Olajuwon to improve the post-game. He’s never had the opportunity to be number one – there will certainly be a lot to prove this season.
- How will the point guard rotation look with Kyle Lowry, DJ Augustin, and Dwight Buycks? Last year, as the season started, the Raptors went into opening night with a very deep point guard position (Lowry, Calderon, Lucas III), and despite the injuries, this was a team that could start 2 of the 3 guys any night, and definitely could fit Lucas a good period of time. Except, this season’s point guard rotation is younger, more athletic, exceedingly better defensively. Lowry is the clear cut starter, however we could see another point guard controversy with Buycks and DJ fighting for the back-up slot.
- Out of the 3, who makes the 15th spot? Chris Wright, Carlos Morais, or Julyan Stone?
- 3 guys that definitely “bring something to the table” every night, said coach Casey. Chris Wright brings athleticism, energy, hard work, slashing and defense. His style of play suits what Coach Casey wants from the 15th spot, someone who will “change practice when they walk in.” Carlos Morais is an intriguing prospect, a scorer who recently was an MVP in the Afroleague. He is your everyday NBA scorer, with the ability to shoot from outside, can run the floor, create his own shot, and has a very, very athletic body. Julyan Stone, is also a interesting guy. Stone was originally going to sign with this team to be the 3rd point guard, but didn’t due to issues during his physical – he did not pass. He is listed as a 6’6/6’7 point guard, who is known for his defensive abilities, a guy that can get to the rim with size, and play multiple positions. With Coach Casey’s like and already versatile roster, Stone definitely has a fit on this team. My personal choice would be Morais, however
One of the primary goals of training camp is chemistry building. This year, there are some guys (mainly two) who need to develop chemistry or an on-court connection with one another.
- That would be the swingmen – DeMar DeRozan, and Rudy Gay. Will these two be able to co-exist together this season? These are two guys that want to see each other successful, as you can tell on and off the court. DeMar and Rudy like different sides of the court as well – DeMar on the left, Rudy on the right – and with two guys (hopefully) improving on their perimeter shooting, guys like Novak, Augustin, a more comfortable Ross, and healthy Fields to keep the floor spread, the extra room to move should help in their shot creation.
- What about the culture, and the direction of this team moving forward? Last camp, Dwane Casey put an emphasis on the offensive side of the ball during training camp, assuming that the “pound the rock” mentality and culture would stay the same. While the team was able to improve offensively, moving to the top half in the league, this was a big mistake considering the 9 new faces acquired in the 2012 off-season. The team fell in the bottom third of the league defensively, and that’s why they struggled more often than not in closing out games. This season, Dwane Casey has made it clear, “90% defense, 10% offense” which he had stated during his scrum on media day. With the new additions having defensive backgrounds or playing under defensive coaches like Hansbrough, Buycks, Augustin, Novak, along with the defensive talents of Lowry, Fields, Amir, JV, Acy, this team is suited for that end of the court.
- How will Dwane Casey look to play offensively? With Dwane Casey’s known like for the Indiana Pacers‘s model, look for lots of inside-outside play – opposite of how the offense worked last season for the team, where they wanted to get out, run, and make perimeter shots. Casey mentioned Valanciunas is going to be a big part in their offense, as well as Rudy and DeMar operating time with their backs to the basket. What will really make the offense work is whether there will be a consistent three-point threat from different players to keep defenses honest. Kyle Lowry will also be a huge factor with regards to facilitating and certainly needs to be better than last season. Additionally, expect newly hired assistant Nick Nurse to play a large part of constructing offensive game plans.
- What else can fans and the league find out in training camp? You can most certainly find the expectations, and this season, there was no such indifference at all, as Lowry had stated it best on the first day of camp: “Win. Next question”, after answering a question posed to him on what the goal is this season. Rudy stated he’s not here to tank: “No. Honestly, we worked too hard for that. We’re not in the business to come out here and tank.” D.J. Augustin also jumped on the little wagon that these two guys had trending, stating that the “team looks good man, we have a lot of talent. We have everything to make the playoffs.” DeMar stated that he’s tired of seeing people close to him have success, and tired of being sent home early and watching: “You know, it’s sickening to me, I’m tired of going home early. Seeing my friends play, seeing everybody else play.” Terrence Ross also said “We are going to make the playoffs.” After so many years of mediocrity, nobody really expects much from the Raptors, however the team is clearly set to prove something.