What Will the New Season Hold? Can the Raptors Get Over the Hump?
The band is back together!
That is the best way of describing the Toronto Raptors heading into the season. Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka re-signed with the club on three year deals over the summer, DeMar DeRozan is still around, so is big man Jonas Valanciunas. Norman Powell recently signed to an extension with the team, and head coach Dwane Casey remains at the helm. Not much has changed around the Toronto Raptors and the course of action remains the same.
Of course the eventual goal is to get over their highly criticized playoff hunt and end the Cleveland Cavaliers streak of consecutive Finals appearances.
While most of the vital pieces to the puzzle remain the same, the supporting cast has seen some slight change. C.J. Miles has come in and taken over the role left behind by the disgruntled DeMarre Carroll, while rookie O.G. Anunoby has shown flashes of potential all throughout the Preseason since returning from his knee injury. Meanwhile, with Cory Joseph no longer man-ing the second unit, Delon Wright seems more than ready to take over the reigns once held by the Canadian point guard.
Now on paper, the Raptors should have no issues grabbing onto a high seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, that is not one of the worries for this group. The regular season will be a way for the Raptors to find a system that works, an offensive flow, a way to compete with the game’s best once the time comes. That means stretching the floor, getting everyone involved on the offensive handed, keeping the basketball moving until an open shot is found.
That being said, the Toronto Raptors play a very guard heavy style of offence, meaning the likes of DeRozan, Lowry, and even Powell control the basketball for long stretches every game. The key for Coach Casey will be to find a way to include his bigs. While Valanciunas may not be the type of centre most NBA teams would prefer to have in today’s era of NBA basketball, he is still around and is getting paid, and while he continues to start, the Raptors will have to make use of him. Whether that is getting him started down low early or use him in the pick and roll to take advantage of smaller opponents, the Raptors must keep Valanciunas engaged in the offence. If J.V. remains engaged on one end of the floor, he will be more proactive on the defensive side of the ball.
While athleticism is there and there are many serviceable pieces on this roster, depth will be a question mark heading into the season – shooting depth specifically. While the Raptors can count on one of their young big men to offer good minutes off the bench, and between Lowry, Wright, and Fred VanVleet, the Raptors have three quality ball-handlers, aside from Lowry, Miles, and maybe Powell, the Raptors lack shooting on the wing.
The NBA has turned into a shooter’s league, there is no way around that fact. If the Raptors want to compete, they will have to be able to hang with the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Cleveland Cavaliers when either of the three powerhouse teams runs, spreads the floor, kicks the ball around, and drains three-pointers in bunches.
With Ibaka back in the fold and a healthy Lowry leading the charge, the Raptors should remain a solid defensive team. Rookie Anunoby should fit right in with that culture and giving a long and agile Wright the minutes which were allocated to Joseph last year should strengthen the Raptors overall defense. Of course, players like Norman Powell and Lucas Nogueira will play large roles on the defensive side as well, especially because there will be a strong need to replace the defensive toughness and grittiness left behind by P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson.
As far as line-ups go, while the starting five is not yet set, we can break down what we could predict to see coming opening night, when the Raptors tip off the regular season against the new-look Chicago Bulls.
The youth is still there, so is the veteran leadership, but Masai Ujiri understands that more must be done if he wants the Raptors three year window to start off on a good not.
And hey, is Bruno Caboclo still two years away from being two years away?