The Raptors 2013 season will be a transition year for the team, from a youth laden squad into a playoff contender. The eastern conference is wide open after the top five teams of Miami, Boston, New York, Indiana and Atlanta, and with a few changes the Raptors should be aiming for a playoff berth. The new additions to the team are young, athletic and hungry to prove themselves against the NBA’s best.
More in than any pro league, a single player in the NBA can change the fortunes of a team rather quickly. For the Raptors in 2013 their playoff aspirations rely on rookie Jonas Valanciunas, who, with the right pieces around him, has the talent to become one of the better “big men” in the NBA. His game can be a factor on both ends of the floor, through guarding the paint and providing interior offence when required.
On the offence side of the ball the Raptors need a major improvement this season to be successful, as last season they ranked 28th in the league. The offence will rely on a team effort, with more of the burden falling on Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan.
If these two players can become 15-20 point scorers on a nightly basis the rest of the scoring should fall into place. Another promising move was the trade for point guard Kyle Lowry from Houston. Lowry is a good scorer and assists man and should benefit from a veteran of Jose Calderon’s calibre.
In a tough division against the likes of Boston, New York and the modern and improved Brooklyn Nets, the Raptors have to find a way to grind out wins in close games. Mental toughness is key for winning; this why the Celtics and Spurs are able to beat younger and better teams and always seem to contend for a NBA championship.
For the Raptors their toughness comes from the philosophy of the head coach. Dwayne Casey will push this to team to compete and leave it all on the floor this season. If the players can buy into his mentality and system, this team should be difficult match up for others around the league.
Casey will dictate the style of play and control the atmosphere around the team since the players on the squad lack playoff and winning experience. If all is effective, a realistic goal for the Raptors should be around the 40 win mark, which should be enough to compete for the lower playoff seeds.
As always the team on paper before the season is bound to change through injuries and trades. It is a marathon of 82 regular season games, and for the Raptors being consistent game in and game out is crucial. They need to prey on the lower rank teams for some easy wins and maybe pull off a few surprises against the like of the Heat and Lakers.
The Raptors have high energy and hustle from players like Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray and their prize free agent signing, Landry Fields. If this can get the team off to a good start and build some confidence early in the season, they should have the pieces to compete for the playoffs. With the players they have, the Raptors should be an entertaining team to watch and could possibly be a .500 team. Hopefully winning will endear the team to fans of Toronto, and reenergize the basketball community in this city.