We asked all of our writers to answer a series of preseason questions in 100 words or less. Some people wrote theirs as early as Oct. 17, so the odd comment may seem out of place. Leave your own brief answers in the comments, and check back tomorrow for part two.
1. Who impressed you most during Summer League and/or preseason and why?
Andrew Thompson Jonas Valanciunas in summer league. Because when last season started, he looked like he was just happy to be out there and on the team when he was on the court. In summer league, he acted like he owned it. That Alpha Dog mentality is what he needs to dominate.
Blake Murphy DeMar DeRozan. I don’t really care about the preseason stats or shooting percentage, I care about the shot selection. In seven games, he took 18 shots that I would consider bad ones (longer than 15 feet but inside the 3-point line). He took another 14 threes which I’m all for, even if he only settles in at 30 percent from there. That leaves 38 shots inside of 15 feet along with another 34 free throw attempts. Add it together and that’s a far more intelligent distribution of shots than we’ve seen from DeRozan in the past – it’s doubly exciting when you see him succeed that way, which should reinforce the behavior.
Garret Hinchey DeMar DeRozan. When the entire fan base is clamouring – begging – for you to take the ball into the post for years, it’s something you hope would happen before year five, but it’s a sign that there’s still improvement to be had, which is huge, given his contract. The regular season is a different animal, but, aside from Jonas’ expected development, it’s the most exciting internal improvement of the preseason.
Sam Holako Seeing as JV was a FIBA beast after a very promising rookie campaign, I’m avoiding the obvious and going with Buycks. He showed a lot of versatility, heart, led the summer league in points and assists, and shot 55% from the field. This from a guy none of us knew existed a week before he first suited up.
Tim Chisholm Well, Summer League was obviously Valanciunas and his MVP-calibre output, but preseason has been owned by the suddenly ultra-effecient DeMar DeRozan. His ability to get to the basket and finish has grown exponentially and will be a huge asset if he can maintain during the regular season.
Tim W. I’d like to say Quincy Acy and his three point shooting, but I think I’d have to say Jonas Valanciunas has looked far more polished offensively, especially during summer league, than I expected. What’s probably been most encouraging is his court vision, though. His ability to see, and hit, the cutters will be a very valuable tool for him. He’s got to work on keeping his turnovers down, but I think it’s been very encouraging.
DeRozan has looked very good offensively, in preseason, but he still hasn’t shown his supposedly improved three point shooting.
William Lou Everyone will say Demar, but Jonas Valanciunas really impressed me this preseason. I thought he might be exhausted coming into camp after playing 13 Eurobasket games in 24 days, but he’s looked fit and energized during these preseason games. He’s still not doing a great job of getting himself in position for a pass in the post, but he’s money in the post, especially with that sweeping left-hook.
Zarar Siddiqi The improvement Jonas Valanciunas has shown is exciting, however, my vote goes to DeMar DeRozan. He’s trying to emulate Kobe Bryant’s post-game and is showing excellent body-control and positional awareness when making his moves. The mid-range jumper is approaching something of a consistent threat and if he manages to complement that with a post-game which forces a second defender, he could become a legitimate scare for defenses.
2. What is the one area you’d like to see the team improve in 2013-14?
Andrew Thompson Playing a cohesive offensive system. NBA offence is about spacing, shot selection and utilizing the particular talents of the pieces you have. The Raps left something to be desired last year, but they have the pieces to build a powerful offence if they so choose (and convince said pieces to do so too).
Blake Murphy Fouling. The team did a terrific job last year of chasing teams off the 3-point line, but they gave a lot of that edge right back by fouling more than any other outfit. I know some will argue that the team’s identity is toughness and no easy baskets in the post. That’s fine, but it can be accomplished without a steady stream of free throws. Think of it this way – we all clamor for our offensive players to get to the line more; why wouldn’t we want our defense to prevent the same thing?
Garret Hinchey Three-point shooting. With Kyle Lowry the only consistent long-range threat in the starting lineup, either Rudy or DeMar will need to step up their game to provide the spacing this team desperately needs. Terrence Ross is a wild-card here, and if he lives up to the expectations the team had when they drafted him, the Raps might find themselves making some tough decisions with the starting lineup.
Sam Holako SHOTS! They need to make SHOTS! from the perimeter, lots of them. Buckets.
Tim Chisholm Defense. A team has to take on the personality of its coach, and Dwane Casey is a defensive coach. Put him in a place where his fundamentals are respected and executed and he’ll have a stronger base to work, build and grow from.
Tim W. Talent.
William Lou This has been beaten to death, but could we improve floor spacing? Our offense is about as crowded as a train at Yonge/Bloor during rush hour. This problem doesn’t even need to be remedied with more shooting. Coach Dwane Casey and Nick Nurse can create more space by just introducing some motion and more cuts in the offensive sets. Let’s get more pick and roll (almost none so far in the preseason) action and let’s also get some cutting. More space means more forays to the rim and less long-twos for Derozan and Gay (hopefully).
Zarar Siddiqi Defense. A 22nd ranked defense which plays at a 24th ranked pace is an awful thing. Considering that the Raptors have a defensive specialist as a coach, you expected last season to be on par with the one before, not regress to the point of being one of the worst in the league. They have the athletes, the question is whether Casey can turn them into players that can be bothered about defense. In the cases of DeRozan and Ross, he has two guys who he can mold into players he wants to be, not so much with the others.
3. Were you happy with the team’s offseason moves?
Andrew Thompson Masai didn’t overpay anybody, built a bench, didn’t sell low on a single asset and recouped one of the 2nd round picks that Colangelo liked to give out as party favours. He could have gotten half of what he got for Bargs and we would have called it fair. Now that deserves a slow clap.
Blake Murphy Definitely. Masai Ujiri is a great hire, and I have a lot of respect for him taking a patient approach rather than taking dynamite to the whole operation. He got value for Bargnani, gave out no long-term money, and the only real complaint is that the bench has been constructed such that our starters need to play 47:55 each game. He also brought in two solid assistant coaches, one for each end of the floor (Bill Bayno for defense, Nick Nurse for offense).
Garret Hinchey Getting rid of Bargnani was huge, and the fact that Ujiri was able to extract real value from him was nothing short of sorcery. I, like many Raptor fans, wish that the front office brought in someone more substantial in free agency, but there’s no point of making moves just for moves’ sake. Signing Indy’s bench has brought some criticism, but let’s remember that both Augustin and Hansbrough had arguably the worst seasons of their careers last year.
Sam Holako Let’s go through the list: replace BC with a top-5 GM? Check! Trade Bargnani for 3 picks and a serviceable replaceent who makes a 3rd his salary? Check! Yea, the offseason worked out well.
Tim Chisholm Yes and no. Yes in that there were no obvious moves to make after jettisoning Bargnani, but no in that the bench that Masai Ujiri assembled is not good, and that could really hamper the team’s ability to develop certain players (especially Terrence Ross) when they are forced to play with a weak second unit.
Tim W. Moving Bargnani for anything would have been good, but Ujiri got usable pieces, which is a huge plus. On a side note, it will be interesting to see who is more productive this season, Bargnani or Novak. Although it’s only been a few games, Novak is outplaying his Knick counterpart, shooting a FAR better percentage and even grabbing more rebounds per minute.
Cleaning house, behind the scenes, was a necessary thing, but without knowing enough about the new personnel, it’s hard to judge whether the results will be a positive or more of the same.
I have to disagree with those who say the offseason moves have revealed anything Ujiri plans to do. I think what’s he’s done is make it virtually impossible to tell, since he could still do anything. He could stay the course, make moves to try and improve the team or blow the whole thing up. What’s he’s done it try and stay as flexible as possible, which is probably a good thing.
William Lou How could you NOT be happy with Ujiri bringing in superstars in Austin Daye and DJ Augustin? Ujiri made the smart move by maintaining flexibility while addressing some needs (spot-up shooting and post-defense). The Bargnani deal was pretty cool.
Zarar Siddiqi Off the court, absolutely. Showing Bryan Colangelo the door was a long time in the making and it was great to see it happen. On the court, I liked the Tyler Hansbrough signing because it, for the first time since Charles Oakley, added a guy that the opposition thinks twice about before trying something. He’s a guy who fits with a window the Raptors might be aiming for and is definitely entertaining enough for me to tune in.
4. Predict the team’s biggest breakout or drop-off.
Andrew Thompson The fastbreak. The Raptors ranked 26th in fastbreak scoring with 9.9 points per game last season, falling a full 10 points behind the league leading Denver Nuggets. That’s preposterous, the Raps have one of the most athletic starting five in the league, they rebound and they’ll play defence. I predict them going from bottom 5 to top 5, and it’s going to be fun to watch.
Blake Murphy Terrence Ross. I was very unkind to Ross after a mediocre performance against Summer League competition that he should have been dominating, but I’ve changed my tune a bit through the preseason. The team needs 3-point shooting (even if he can’t find his way to a higher clip as expected), he’s a force in transition going both ways, and he could be thrust into a bigger role if a trade were to go down. Oh, and JV obviously, but we’re all trying to be contrarian here, right?
Garret Hinchey It’s easy to say Jonas here, and that’s almost certainly the right answer, but I’ll go with Kyle Lowry, assuming he can stay healthy for the majority of the season. He’s been handed the car keys to a potent starting lineup, and if Rudy and/or DeMar can handle the half-court offense, he should have plenty of opportunities to light it up from beyond the arc in a contract year.
Sam Holako Valanciunas has all the makings of a stud, and should win MVP of the Rookie/Sophmore game. I’m also thinking he does 16/9 this season. On the flip sie, Amir looked awfully unmotivated this pre-season; can’t put much stock in that, but it would have been nice to see a pulse.
Tim Chisholm I think that the team is really going to surprise people with its three-point shooting. I think that they’ll be aggressive in taking three-point shots and that it will have a positive trickle-down effect by spreading out defences. Remember, they don’t have to hit for a crazy high percentage, even if they hit the same percentage as their long-twos is a much more efficient result.
Tim W. Not a bold prediction, but I think Valanciunas is going to be the team’s biggest breakout. I don’t think he’s going to be an All Star, or anything, but if he just ups his minutes per game to close to 30, then he could be close to averaging a double-double. My guess is he’ll average around 14 ppg and 9 rpg. How he will react to the increased defensive attention will be the key.
William Lou Can I say nobody? JV will take a step forward, but I don’t know it’ll be enough to be considered a “breakout”. We know who everyone else is, right? Demar, Lowry and Gay are who we thought they were? Amir won’t get enough touches to pretty up his PPG averages. I’m going to go the “bounce-back” route and predict that Fields lives up to his contract.
Zarar Siddiqi Last year the Raptors shot the 10th highest percentage of threes (e.g., 25% of shots were threes) but only made them at a 26th ranked rate of 34%. Those are disastrous numbers and will definitely improve with Steve Novak and Austin Daye.