The Raptors made a nice splash at the trade deadline last season, acquiring highly talented swingman Rudy Gay. Many debate whether Gay can be considered a franchise player or even if he can be considered an all-star caliber player. I don’t think Toronto expects Gay to be it’s main franchise piece. I don’t think they are building around one player in particular. Rather, they’re putting as much young talent together as possible. How will that work out for them this season? Let’s take a look at the Toronto Raptors’ season preview:
Guards (B): Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, D.J. Augustin, Terrence Ross, Dwight Buycks
In my mind, Lowry and DeRozan is a backcourt that raises a lot of questions. Don’t get me wrong; I’m well-aware both of these guys can play. The questions they present range from Lowry’s big health concerns to both of their extremely inconsistent jumpshots. Their backups, Augustin and Ross, are actually much more efficient outside shooters. The reason Lowry is starting point guard worthy is because of his I.Q. and valuable intangibles, such as often picking up loose balls. I think Terrence Ross will open a lot of eyes this year and be one of the stronger bench players (possibly 6th men) in the league.
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Forwards (B-): Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Steve Novak, Austin Daye
Sometimes, Rudy Gay makes amazing highlight plays causing you to go, “woah, this guy is pretty good.” But other times, he kind of blends in with the rest of the competition. I don’t know exactly what holds him back from being a proven all-star. I’d guess it has something to do with work ethic and mentality. Not that his work ethic is poor, but it doesn’t seem like he wants to be the best. To be a great small forward in this league, you have to want to be the best. The rest of these forwards don’t excite me too much. Amir Johnson went on a roll about the last 20 games of last season. However, he still is nowhere near being feared as a starting big man. Obviously, Novak is a deadly three-point shooter, but he needs court spacing and a good ball handler to attract the defense and kick it out to him (Gay, Lowry?).
Centers (B-): Jonas Valanciunas, Tyler Hansbrough, Aaron Gray
After winning Summer League MVP, Valanciunas should be a preseason frontrunner for Most Improved Player. His game looks fairly similar to Nikola Pekovic’s of Minnesota. That would be saying something as Pekovic is one of the biggest bruisers down-low. There are few talented (true) centers in the East including Hibbert, Noah, and Chandler. Valanciunas and Pistons’ Andre Drummond are two big bodies that could rank atop the Eastern Conference centers in a couple years. Hansbrough isn’t really a center, but Toronto’s abundance of forwards will often force him to play it. ”Psycho T” has no problem playing the five, though.
Photo courtesy of torontosun.com
Defense (B+): Toronto should be a much better rebounding team with Andrea Bargnani out of the mix. The presence of him, alone, really hurt the team’s defensive value in the past. Johnson and Valanciunas give the Raptors some beef in the painted area, which is a reason Dwane Casey may be satisfied with starting this young duo. If Lowry could get rid of his injury problems, he would consistently be a tenacious defender. DeRozan also plays pretty well on both sides of the ball.
Shooting (B-): Again, the shooting inconsistency of Lowry and DeRozan is likely to haunt them. Toronto may want to consider playing a small lineup in the last five minutes, consisting of Lowry, Ross, DeRozan, Gay, and Valanciunas. That might give them an edge when trying to put the ball in the hoop. Again, Novak is deadly as they come from three-point territory but his shooting success will largely depend on his teammates freeing up space for him. Although Gay is a pretty solid shooter, it seems his jumper has reached it’s peak. But Gay doesn’t have much of a problem finishing at the hoop.
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Experience (B-): B- might be a generous rating. This team needs to grow together in order for it’s game to speak as loud as it’s talent on paper. It’ll be essential for Lowry and Gay to serve as good team leaders.
Standing – 10th East: Toronto could easily clinch a playoff spot this season. But if they don’t, it’s still likely they’ll head in the right direction with the way the team is built. The Raptors shouldn’t be in any rush to try and be a conference contender. They’ll have to take one step at a time.
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