All was not well with our neighbors from the north last season. The Toronto Raptors suffered their second dismal season in a row, finishing with a record of 23-43. For the second straight season, their best player (Andrea Bargnani) missed significant time with injuries. Their offense was pitiful and they didn’t add much this past offseason. With that in mind, let’s preview the Raptors upcoming season.
I got ripped last season for saying the Raptors weren’t that good of a team. I picked them to finish last in the Atlantic Division and they ended up finishing in fourth place, in the Atlantic Division. I am picking them, again, to finish last. If you can’t score, you can’t win. The Raptors averaged 90.7 points per game last year, 28th overall out of 30 teams. I do not care how good your defense is (theirs was 9th last season), you will not win games with a scoring average of 90.7.
It’s just not happening.
So what did they do to solve their offensive inefficiencies? They traded for point guard Kyle Lowry (14.3 ppg last season) and drafted shooting guard Terrence Ross. Big man Jonas Valanciunas will be coming over from Lithuania to give the Raptors a much-needed post presence. Even though I didn’t like what I saw from Valanciunas in the Olympics, I still think he will help them to some degree. However, he is young with no polished back-to-the-basket game and fouls a lot. Their biggest free agent signing was Landry Fields. They are paying him $6.2 million to, more than likely, average 8 points per game and, if they happen to make it to the playoffs (which they won’t), to disappear during the playoffs like he did last season with the New York Knicks.
The big thing this team is missing is an identity. When they had Chris Bosh, he was the face of the franchise. The Raptors are missing that. Some people think Bargnani could be that guy. Some think DeMar DeRozan could turn into that guy. I think landing a big free agent would immediately give them an identity. DeRozan’s numbers were down across the board last season. He is still very limited offensively and his overall game is still very raw. Developing into a consistent player night-in and night-out should be his main focus for this season.
Ed Davis led the Raptors in rebounding with 6.6 rebounds per game, really? Kevin Love averaged more than double that last season.
On top of trading for Lowry, the Raptors still have point guard Jose Calderon under contract for $10.5 million this season. Calderon is 30 years old and I don’t think any playoff team could afford to take on his one-year salary, so the Raptors are stuck with him for now.
With all the question marks surrounding the Raptors, let me breakdown their roster.
Point guard(s) – Jose Calderon: I am giving Calderon the benefit of the doubt and naming him the starter. He isn’t a bad point guard, but he is extremely overpaid. He doesn’t turn the ball over, but he plays no defense. He is a pretty solid shooter and a good passer, but he doesn’t make enough game-changing plays like other top-dollar point guards do. It will be interesting see what the Raptors do with Calderon this season.
Kyle Lowry will back up Calderon.
Position Grade: B-
Shooting guard(s) – DeMar DeRozan: DeRozan is a very athletic and young player who has an eye-killing offensive game. He is somewhat of a high-volume shooter with low-volume results. He gets to the line a decent amount (5.3 free-throw attempts per game last season), but there is more to be desired. Maybe the Raptors will make a play for Oklahoma City’s James Harden? For as long (6’7) and athletic as DeRozan is, his defense isn’t up to par.
I am guessing that rookie Terrence Ross will back up DeRozan.
Position Grade: C+
Small forward(s) – Landry Fields: Fields is a good player but, like DeRozan, there is more to be desired. Not a great three-point shooter for a small forward (25.6% last season) and nor is he a good free-throw shooter (56.2% last season). However, he wasn’t involved in much of the offense in New York because he played with Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and J.R. Smith. He could be more a factor in Toronto’s offense this season. Heck, even I could be a factor in Toronto’s offense.
Linas Kleiza will back up Fields.
Position Grade: C+
Power forward(s) – Ed Davis: I am taking a wild guess and saying that Davis will start the year at power forward. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Amir Johnson started over Davis, but I digress. Davis has shown flashes of becoming a solid post-player in a league that is seeing those types of players slowly fading out as a new wave of players is coming in. He is a pretty solid defender, but could improve more in that area. I think he needs to see consistent minutes before he can fairly be evaluated.
Amir Johnson will back up Davis.
Position Grade: C
Center(s) – Andrea Bargnani: Playing basketball hasn’t been his problem. Rather, staying healthy has been his problem. He is an excellent shooter for a guy who is 7-feet tall and has shown the ability to take over games with the ways he can score. He has a lot of moves in his offensive arsenal that make him tough to stop. But various injuries in five of his six years as a professional have limited his time on the court. Keeping him on the floor should be the Raptors main concern because after all, he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft. He hasn’t had the chance, due to injuries, to prove his worthiness of the No. 1 pick. Is he a franchise guy? I don’t think so. I think he can be a solid No. 2 option on a playoff team.
Jonas Valanciunas will back up Bargnani.
Position Grade: B-
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Jose Calderon
G: DeMar DeRozan
F: Landry Fields
F: Ed Davis
C: Andrea Bargnani
Starting Lineup Grade: C+
G: Kyle Lowry
G: Terrence Ross
F: Amir Johnson
F: Jonas Valanciunas
Bench Grade: C
Coaching Grade: C+ (Dwane Casey)
I think the Raptors will finish last in the Atlantic Division, missing the playoffs for the third straight season.