Head coach Dwane Casey got the hard work out of the way in Season 1, taking a team ranked dead last in team defense and catapulting it to 12th by installing some conservative principles and demanding full effort from the entire roster.
There were other bright spots, with more on the way. When Andrea Bargnani was healthy, he played some of the best basketball of his career. Once Jonas Valanciunas gets a feel for the NBA game, he'll demand attention down low. New acquisition Kyle Lowry can generate instant offense, which should also help.
There's a lot to like here, but still a ton of work to do to improve upon a 25th-ranked offense. The Raptors desperately need to open up some space in the half court to prevent the rigor mortis that bogged them down last season. Bargnani, when he's out there, helps inordinately, and Lowry can hit a shot from the perimeter and break down defenses off the bounce. But the Raptors simply can't build the kind of offense they want with their current supply of wings -- and that sober reality starts and ends with DeMar DeRozan, who enters the final guaranteed year of his rookie deal.
DeRozan, the Raptors' leader in minutes played each of the past two seasons, has never posted a player efficiency rating (PER) above the league average and it's not as if he's making up for it as a defender. He's not a proficient outside shooter, makes iffy reads on the pick-and-roll and is a ball-stopper in isolation with a less-than-stellar track record of converting those opportunities into anything -- a creator without much creativity.
To put it bluntly, there are very few things DeRozan is doing to help the Toronto Raptors win basketball games and it's hard to imagine an efficient offense that relies on him for a significant chunk of possessions.
The Raptors raised eyebrows by selecting Terrence Ross with the No. 8 pick in June. While Ross is no polished product on the offensive end, he's a Casey type of player, with quick feet on defense and a heady awareness of what's happening on the floor. He'd be a natural replacement for DeRozan, provided he can find his shot or, at the very least, recognize his limitations and minimize mistakes. That would be an easier proposition if there was another wing on the floor who could create. Ross could watch tape of Tony Allen and craft a career as a stopper with a few offensive tricks.
If the Raptors let DeRozan walk, they'd have some dough to find someone -- anyone -- who can score efficiently at the wing. Once that happens, the ball will start to move again in Toronto, this time with a stalwart defense to complement it.