With that said,¬ SCHOENE¬ sees the Raptors just squeezing their way into the playoffs with a 37-45 record, which signifies a slight improvement from last season. But that projection is contingent on Gay staying with the Raptors for the entirety of next season
, which is far from guaranteed with Ujiri at the steering wheel. If the Raptors can find a taker in win-now mode (Milwaukee or Detroit?), Gay’s stay in Toronto could be short-lived.
The biggest obstacle to the Raptors’ .500 quest is their underwhelming defense,
which SCHOENE believes will rank 25th next season thanks in part to the exceedingly-high foul rates of Lowry, Johnson and Valanciunas. If Casey can somehow keep that trio out of foul trouble, the Raptors could put together an athletic defensive force that produces a DeRozan-and-Gay dunk factory. That’s the best-case scenario, and it might be the most unlikely as well.
The Raptors should keep a close eye on Valanciunas, who has been played nonstop in 5-on-5 hoops this summer. After crushing the competition at the Las Vegas Summer League in July, the 21-year-old big man then starred for the Lithuanian national team at the EuroBasket in September. All the while, Valanciunas looked like he beefed up considerably since last season, which should help him bang against NBA frontlines, but the added weight could make him more susceptible to injury. Valanciunas might be a leading candidate for most improved player next season, but there’s a chance he burns out on the way there and the Raptors will have to shut him down.