The Raptors may not have had the busiest summer in their history, but that doesn't mean that there won't be plenty of turnover in their roster heading into next season. The question is, is there depth chart any better than the one that finished with a .348 winning percentage? Over the next three days we'll take a look at the guards, the wings and the bigs to see what's changed and if the club is better off year over year. Today, we start with the guards, the position that generated the most talk (and change) for the Raptors this summer.
STARTING POINT GUARD
Last Season: Jose Calderon
This Season: Kyle Lowry
This was really a case of the Raptors importing more of what they needed into the starting five rather than criticizing what Calderon brought to them last season. This club needed more of a defensive presence at the point of attack, and there are few in the league as capable in that regard as Lowry. He is a ferocious defender at the position, which is vital in this point guard rich era, and he'll set the defensive tone for a team in need of a defensive leader. He is also better equipped to mesh with returning starters DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani because he can create off of the dribble, rebound the ball and make plays for others - all areas where DeRozan and Bargnani struggle.
It also helps that Lowry pushes himself to get to the free throw line (4.2 attempts per game last year) and makes free throws at at a stellar clip (.864). While Calderon is a tremendous free throw shooter as well, he simply doesn't get to the stripe often enough for it to matter. Toronto was 20th in the NBA last season in free throw attempts per game and for a team that also shot just 44% from the floor (seventh-worst in the NBA) they need all the easy shots that they can get as they look to improve their offensive output this season.
While the Raptors leave a little on the table when it comes to playmaking by swapping Calderon for Lowry in the starting five, the improvements that Lowry brings in several other areas more than makes up for the discrepancy.
BACKUP POINT GUARD
Last Season: Jerryd Bayless
This Season: Jose Calderon
This is an unqualified upgrade while it lasts. Bayless had his moments as a starter in Toronto, but as a reserve he was consistently unreliable. He simply never found a way to look comfortable controlling the offense with the second unit like he did when he played with the starters. Calderon, on the other hand, has had tremendous success as a reserve in Toronto, and has posted a career average of 4.8 assists per game (in 20.6 minutes per contest) as a backup in 187 games for the Raptors. The Raptors will need that kind of playmaking, too, to make the most of the incomplete offensive skills offered by Toronto's very young second unit.
That's really what makes Calderon better suited to bench duty than Bayless. While each has their supporters and detractors, Calderon's experience and leadership will be a boon to a unit that includes guys like Terrence Ross, Ed Davis and Jonas Valanciunas. The latter will benefit even more than the rest as his primary offensive skill - being a roll man in the pick-and-roll - is perfectly complimented by Calderon's primary offensive skill - being the ball handler in the pick-and-roll. No one can say how long Calderon will be with Toronto (he has requested a trade that Toronto is amenable to granting) but so long as he's with the club he'll make Toronto's point guard position one of the deepest in the NBA.
THIRD-STRING POINT GUARD
Last Season: Anthony Carter/Ben Uzoh
This Season: John Lucas III
Lucas played in 49 games last season for the Chicago Bulls, and he played a healthy 14.8 minutes per game thanks to the consistent unavailability of Derrick Rose. He's definitely an offensive-minded guard, he shot a tremendous .393 from three last season on three attempts per game, and he'll be a great asset to the Raptors if Lowry or Calderon falls victim to injury at any point this season. He's certainly a more NBA-capable player than the aged Carter or inconsistent Uzoh.
If Calderon is traded, though, and Lucas becomes the team's backup point guard things aren't quite as rosy. He's certainly capable of handling that responsibility, but he and Lowry make for a very small backcourt and Lucas is really more of a three-point specialist than a true point guard. Again, you'd take him over Carter or Uzoh in a heartbeat, but it's unlikely that the Raptors expect the 29-year-old Lucas to be their longterm answer behind Lowry if Calderon is moved along.