A good number of Toronto Raptors fans seem content with the franchise bringing back the same core that surprisingly won the Atlantic Division and nearly beat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs this season. That’s fair, and it’s tough not to have become emotionally attached to previously unheralded contributors like Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, and if you’re not in love with Kyle Lowry, you’re watching basketball wrong.

There is, however, a bit of a trap in assuming that bringing the core back, adding the No. 20 pick, upgrading on John Salmons and factoring in the further development of young players will be “enough” for the team to remain as competitive as expectations will now surely suggest they should be.

Presently, the Raptors project to have about $42.5 million in salary committed to DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes, Steve Novak, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, the No. 20 pick, guaranteed portions for Salmons and Tyler Hansbrough and the slight amount remaining on the cap for Marcus Camby. $42.5 million for eight players isn’t bad, and once cap holds are figured in for the four open mandatory roster spots (including an assumed minimum for one or both of the team’s two second round picks), the Raptors have a projected $18.7 million in cap space.

That is, if they renounced the rights to Lowry, Vasquez and Patterson, which they can’t and won’t do. The salaries for those three players threaten to eat all of that cap space, even if they all sign relatively modest deals (say Lowry gets a conservative $10 million annually, Vasquez and Patterson $4 million each). You then have an 11-man core with next to no cap space, leaving roughly $14 million under the luxury tax but only trades and the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (starting at $5.31 million) and other minor exceptions to fill out the roster.

So, if you’re bringing the whole gang back, you’re betting an awful lot that:

  • The chemistry and synergy of last year’s team carries over
  • The No. 20 pick is a contributor
  • The mid-level is enough to appreciably upgrade the backup center or backup wing spot.
  • DeRozan, Ross, Patterson and Valanciunas continue to develop

The last point is the most fundamental for the growth of the team if the core stays the same, and it’s both easy to understand and easy to misconstrue. Yes, the Raptors were young with an average age of 25.6, but that was just the 12th-youngest roster in the league. And yes, three of the team’s starters are 24 or under and no relevant contributor was over 27, but assuming linear growth is dangerous.

What I’m saying is this: Lowry had a career year, one he may match but is unlikely to ever improve upon; Johnson’s upside is established and consistent; and Vasquez can perhaps play better over the long haul but not better than he played down the stretch. Those are known commodities with a ceiling established, a ceiling that peaked at a first-round exit and could have, realistically, peaked with the second round, in a more fortunate timeline.

For growth, however, the team is then relying on four young players to continue to improve. That’s fair considering basketball players tend to peak around age 27 and these four are all 24 or under, but development appears to slow some after age 24. Most importantly, development is not linear. Valanciunas, Ross, DeRozan and Patterson were in their age 21, 22, 24 and 24 seasons, respectively. The graph below shows how players around those ages have evolved in the past three years as an example, using only players who played 1,000 minutes in at least two of the past three seasons sequentially (introducing a survivorship bias but hopefully eliminating some bit-player noise, giving us a 92-player pool). The table uses win shares as a catch-all metric and also shows “box score stats per 36 minutes,” summing points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks on a per-36 minute basis.

Age N Y1 WS Y2 WS WS Gain Y1 Bx Y2 Bx Bx Gain
20-21 12 2.48 3.88 56.9% 25.42 26.86 5.7%
21-22 18 3.17 4.26 34.3% 26.73 28.14 5.3%
22-23 29 4.17 5.53 32.5% 27.68 28.97 4.6%
23-24 34 4.75 5.62 18.3% 26.69 28.26 5.9%
24-25 35 4.85 5.35 10.3% 26.64 27.35 2.7%

What we see here is a positive for the Raptors, as players have continued to make gains to age 25. Though that slows significantly as players get closer to the generally accepted age 27 peak – aging is not a bell curve, either, but it approximates one more than a linear path – players who are, say, the age of DeRozan and Patterson, on average, were still improving.


While that’s obviously good news, especially since DeRozan made such strides this year to build on, it doesn’t mean you can expect DeRozan to continue steadily improving across the board. In fact, of the 35 players in the age range DeRozan is entering next year, 11 produced less in the boxscore and three saw no gains while 10 saw their win shares decline and one saw no gain. For the most part, players at this age are still improving, but it’s not universal.

As for Ross, well, the sample average showed steady growth from 21 to 23, so it’s reasonable to expect him to take further strides. And Valanciunas, while we’d expect that last season was his biggest development year, has a lot of upside still to tap into.

It’s my assumption that none of this is surprising, and while the quick study is anything but perfect, it backs up conventional wisdom on player development. Your younger players should continue to improve, with the least experienced taking bigger strides and the more experienced making more marginal gains, albeit ones compounded on improvements they may have already made.

As a result, expecting growth from the young pieces is fair, but resting the hopes of the team improving solely on that is risky – other teams, 11 of whom were actually younger than the Raptors, will have players develop as well, and several key contributors have already established their ceilings. Simply bringing back the whole band and relying on the youth to develop may not be enough to ensure the franchise continues on the upward trend it established in 2013-14.

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21 Responses to “Assuming linear development is a risky proposition”

  1. Milesboyer

    I would be happy with a repeat of last year + a trip to the second round. Totally doable with the status quo. Build up a bit of a reputation as a “decent” to “good” team before swinging for the fences, possibly missing and being back to a loser once again. Lieweke will try something big, just not sure if this is the right year.

  2. Roarque

    The 1 and 5 spots show an older median age peak than the other positions. That is JV’s position peaks at 30 and Kyle’s position peaks at 31-32. So I expect both to continue to expand their skill sets. DDR has peaked but that’s not a bad peak. The conclusion here is to sell DDR high or sit back and enjoy an all-star on your roster. Call me a homer but I’d also like to see Ed Davis come back to fill a Serge Ibaka role as our paint blocker.

    • Tom

      I’d also like to roll the dice by trading DeRozan.

      We got better by trading away one high-usage isolation-oriented player, and I’d like to see if we could repeat the trick. The rest of our roster is built for P&R play, and DeRozan isn’t really suited to that: he’s not a great P&R ball-handler and he’s not a floor-spacer either.

      If we don’t trade him, I think he’d make a great 6th man, but I don’t think Casey would ever move our “all star” to the bench.

      • Roarque

        I don’t believe that DDR would accept that 6th man role well. It has to be a trade. I also trust Masai Ujiri to analyze any trade for DeMar very carefully. It would only be a step forward if that illusive entity we all call “chemistry” is not upset in the process. The question is: which GM lusts after DDR to the extent that they would risk trading with Masia Ujiri after what he’s done to his counterparts in New York and Sacramento? Also, is TRoss, or as I prefer, JuROSSic, going to step up this year. So much talent, so much youth, such a fragile ego. I’m too much the cowardly lion to think it’s possible.

      • asifyouknow

        In my opinion DeMar is the square peg on a round team. He just does not fit to what the coach wants to build. I’ll say- apparently wants to build- because at times Casey confuses me with his game, he sort of has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on.
        DeMar would be good trade bait for someone like Ibaka or Ibaka type player.
        Ross needs to move to SG, he is just too small to be a top SF.
        I see lots of opinions on how to get better on this site, I’m sure we all got the right formula, but there is one thing we can count on, the east will get better and if Toronto stays the same they might not make the playoffs.

    • ItsAboutFun

      “DDR has peaked”. There should be no reason to repeat the evidence that this is hardly true, but what reasoning do you have to state this so positively?

      “Ed Davis come back to fill a Serge Ibaka role as our paint blocker.” Amir does that, and is much better than ED. I could live with ED as a 5th big replacement for Hansbrough, but that’s minimal impact and not exactly Ibaka-ish.

      • Roarque

        Everything you say is true to some degree. But Blake’s premise was that growth is not linear and my premise is that Demar can only improve dramatically if he embraces a defensive mindset. That’s something he has never done to date. Ergo, he has peaked and is now ready to be traded at his “high point” of value.
        Regarding Ed Davis: I prefaced my remarks by announcing my love of the guy and I for one don’t believe you can have too many Amir-like ( or Ibaka-like) players on your team. ED was a defensive rock and defence wins in the NBA. Plus Amir has the ankle issue that makes him 35 years old some nights.

    • DDayLewis

      If Davis could be signed on to fill the Hansbrough role, while Tyler is waived, I would be a very happy man. ED! still has upside left in him.

  3. Johnson

    so what is the point exactly? any knowledgeable raptors has already considered this. doesn’t faze me. sure, lets say it is ‘risky’ to rely solely on core development,,, but is it not just as risky to make changes to that core and potentially ruin chemistry? if ujiri makes almost no changes it’s a risk. if he makes some changes it’s a risk. if he makes big changes it’s a hell of a risk. what is the new information here? and can you please elaborate on what type of off season would not be considered a risk?

    also why is it never considered by short-sighted fans that contracts in the NBA are not absolute. if the raptors are to re-sign lowry, vasquez and patterson and eat all of their cap-space it does NOT mean that they are committed to those players long term with no way out if things don’t pan out. it’s called trades. i hear the raptors GM has a pretty good history with them. if ujiri can trade bargnani and gay with huge contracts at their lowest value of their careers he can trade almost anyone. you try and keep your assets.

    post-gay trade the raptors were 41-22. that winning percentage is 65%. a 65% winning percentage over a full 82 games equates to roughly 53 wins. if we assume marginal improvements across the board, and combine that with the expected significant improvements of jv and ross, how is this not a potentially 55-60 win team perennially with lowry manning the point for the prime of his career? it is only a 2 to 7 win per year improvement from this very early stage of the raptors young core. having 55+ wins would give you a top 5 record in the nba almost every year and place you in contention for the nba championship. add this to the fact that the raptors are playing in the EAST where the top 2 teams have either peaked for inevitable decline (miami… eventually lol) or is currently a locker room mess with an uncertain future (indiana, although i still think they will be contending for a while) and suddenly the raptors are in prime position to be one of the very top teams (if not THE top team) in the conference for several years and make deep playoff runs.

    in sum, it would be foolish to not try and move forward with this core for the next 2 years. you pretty much HAVE to for at least the 14/15 season. if things don’t work out in a couple years masai can simply alter the roster. bring the crew back masai! LETS GO RAPTORS!

    • Abused Raptors Fan

      While I agree that this core should continue to improve and remain competitive in the Eastern conference next year, it’d be foolish to assume that they’ll be able to improve upon what they did last year based upon their record after the Rudy Gay trade. For one, their schedule after December presented few legitimate challenges, yet provided ample opportunity to beat up upon bottom-feeders and tankers alike (although even then they still managed to lose more games than they should have). Also, it’s highly unlikely that the East is as weak next season as it was in 2013-2014, particularly at the bottom of the conference given the infusion of talent the draft will provide for the lottery teams. For the playoff teams outside of Miami and Indiana, it’d be naive to assume that the Raptors organic improvement outpaces the other playoff teams with young cores, while it’s also unlikely that the Nets and Bulls are as uncompetitive for large stretches of next season as they were this year (not to mention the Knicks, who may also dramatically improve).

      Given the relative improvement of the Eastern conference as a whole we can expect next season, I do not think we can simply take our Post-Trade winning percentage to extrapolate the Raptors potential record next season, especially when you consider the how close spots 3-6 were, even after the early struggles experienced by us, the Bulls, the Nets, and the Wizards. Personally, I can see them finishing anywhere from 3-7 depending upon how the other playoff teams handle the offseason and we retain our FA’s and draft well.

      • Roarque

        ARFan, you made some interesting points in your response but I’m writing to ask why you feel the need to present your arguments with such inflammatory preambles as:
        “it’d be foolish to assume that they’ll be able to improve upon”
        “it’d be naive to assume that the Raptors organic improvement” .
        Please help to understand why you do that. Is it to stir the pot by attempting to belittle others? Have you found that people respond well to you debating them in this way? Have you had your nose broken in face to face arguments using this technique?
        Just wondering. 😉

      • Johnson

        Ahhhh a classic example of a pessimistic fan who thinks he is smart and doesn’t read properly, Rather, he misinterprets what is written to assist his negative views lol. I will use direct quotations to expose this.

        “For one, their schedule after December presented few legitimate
        challenges, yet provided ample opportunity to beat up upon
        bottom-feeders and tankers alike (although even then they still managed
        to lose more games than they should have)”- ARF

        Response: 1) The Gay trade occurred December 8th. To disregard the rest of the month where the team first started to have success is ignorant. You only omitted this to help your argument. That is stupid. 2) The NBA is NOT the NFL. Every team plays every team multiple times. Before January 1st, the Raptors concluded their season series with the Spurs ONLY. This means that they played all 28 other teams after December. How can you say they “faced few legitimate challenges” and beat up on bottom-feeders and tankers alike if they PLAYED EVERY TEAM IN THE NBA? They also won 64% of those games. And how, by your words, could they have lost more games than they should have if they had a winning percentage greater than what you think they are able to achieve? This is very contradictory and it is made clear that you’re talking out of your ass.

        “it’s highly unlikely that the East is as weak next season as it was in
        2013-2014, particularly at the bottom of the conference given the
        infusion of talent the draft will provide for the lottery teams.”- ARF

        Response: Have you even been paying attention to the Eastern conference the last 10 years? This years conference got off to a slower start but finished pretty much on par with the standings the last decade. It was not significantly worse in any way. About half the teams have losing records and half with winning records (and usually the 8th seed is a losing team btw). To assume that this will change is actually inconsistent with the trends and history of the conference. But, of course, to you a conference similar to this year occurring again next year is “highly unlikely.” Try educating yourself on the league before trying to act like you know shit. BTW, there is a draft every year. Every year new star talent comes into the league. And almost every year the East is still pretty much the same. So to assume this draft class will change everything is a pretty damn fucking stupid assumption I must say. Very naive thinking actually.

        *Definition of naive= showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgment. In this instance, you have demonstrated a lack of experience with the league and its history, the wisdom to comprehend league trends and realities, and have misjudged the strength of the Eastern Conference.

        “it’d be naive to assume that the Raptors organic improvement outpaces the other playoff teams with young cores.”- ARF

        Response: Okay, now that I have explained to you what naive means, I will tell you how it makes no fucking sense in this context. First of all, you just plainly state this without backing up a reason as to why. This is the initial indication that you are talking nonsense. Second, it would NOT be naive to assume that the Raptors organic improvement outpaces the other playoff teams with young cores. Are you that ignorant? Fuck. Fine I’ll break it down. Eastern conference playoff teams with younger cores than the Raptors=_____. Ya no team does. EC playoff teams with similar young cores to the Raptors= Indiana, Washington, Charlotte. No other EC playoff team can be legitimately argued. So that Raptors have a younger core of starters and had a better record than the Wiz and Hornets…. yet it is NAIVE to think that they will be better? Are you high? Lets practice widely accepted common sense as it pertains to sport. Younger= more likely to improve. Experience in any sport tells us this. Younger + better record currently= it is wise to make a judgement that the currently superior team which also possesses more youth/upside has a better future. But that is naive? No. It is actually very naive to assume otherwise.

        “I do not think we can simply take our Post-Trade winning percentage to extrapolate the Raptors potential record next season”- ARF

        I did not do this. I simply put it into perspective. I see that some people thought that I meant this was my expectation for next season. That was not what I said. Although, I understand why someone may have interpreted it that way. I did not say NEXT season. I said POTENTIALLY during the span that Lowry is in his prime. This ranges from anywhere between next year and 4 years down the road. If this current Raptors core (that is very young and steadily improving) was capable of winning 65% of games this year (which they did after the trade- 63 games is plenty of season btw) why would they not be able to improve on that winning percentage to say the 67%-72% range? 55 wins is realistic for the future. This is only accounting for marginal team improvement through continuity. Up to maybe 60 wins is achievable in the future as well. I believe Derozan and Ross both have another level to their games, and JV is on the projected path to be a perennial all star center and game changing player. How good he becomes can really put this team over the top.

        K. I fucked you Abused Raptors Fan. Just had to say this for the optimists and TRUE fans like me who support this team AND use reason. Fuck you trying to corrupt plenty good young fans. Hate when internet assholes try and do that to people.

        It’s just that I hate “fans” who are cynical about this team and always pessimistic (thank god for RR though because it’s not nearly as bad as RealGM lol). You aren’t arguing optimistic fans based on reason, you are just saying negative shit to piss people off and make them as miserable as you. You are all losers. Why? Because you have a losing mentality. You’re the type to write a bunch of miserable bullshit trashing your favourite team only to conclude with “I hope I’m wrong.” You only say this pessimistic garbage to protect your ego. This way, if they lose you can act like a pretentious douche and brag about how much smarter you are than everyone else. However, if the team starts to win you pretend like you never doubted or shit on the team to begin with and go along for the joy ride. You set yourself up for a win-win situation because you pessimistic fans are a bunch of fucking pussies.

        Okay I’m done peace

    • ItsAboutFun

      I may not totally go along with your projections, but those first two paragraphs are basically what I was about to write. Exactly!!! WTF is the point, and what plan isn’t a risk, quite possibly a bigger one?

  4. Matteemo

    So far Masai Ujiri has impressed me by not making trades for the sake of making them, if a good deal comes along (moving Demar or whatever else it may be) I believe he will make it. But I don’t believe he will pull the trigger on a deal that will set us back. We don’t need to win a championship next year, or even be a true contender next year, we simply need to make incremental improvements year after year and become one of those teams that continually makes playoffs. If that happens we will eventually contend for a title, and I truly believe that that is the only way we will ever contend for a title. Knee jerk reactionary trades and/or bad contracts will potentially bury is for another decade.

  5. Rap fan 2

    Firstly, I don’t think you can put in stone someone’s limitations. These days with the advancement in science, technology and knowledge players are extending their playing careers ever longer. Their experience and basketball IQ keeps increasing the longer they play. Just look at the Spurs. I think it’s more important to have overall team growth and development. You look at the Raptors as a team last season, they weren’t able to beat either the Heat or the Spurs once. As a fan it’s difficult not to fall in love with the players on the team. I think if we are serious about winning a championship the Raptors need to transform themselves into a team with enough depth, talent, cohesiveness, tenacity, critical mass to be able to beat the very best teams in the entire league period. You don’t necessarily need to get All-Stars for your entire starting lineup. You need to be the last team standing in the end.



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