The wait is almost over. After a much more disappointing post-season than the one previous and an offseason filled with a variety of interesting and roster-bolstering moves, the Toronto Raptors are only 10 days away from the regular season.
We’ll do our best to preview the known, and with less certainty, the unknown.
The Known (Sort of)
Based on what we’ve seen from Masai Ujiri’s moves this offseason, summer league action, FIBA ball, the little taste of preseason we have had thus far, and everything else, there are pretty much only a few things we can expect for the upcoming 2015/2016 season.
The KLow Show
Coming into the second year of his initially pricey, but now seemingly very reasonable contract of $48M over 4 years, Kyle Lowry is in the prime of his career, the best shape of his life, and playing free and easy basketball shooting with a mid-season form. Just based on what we’ve seen early from him, it’s possible that we could see Lowry emerge as a top point guard in the league, and he could be a top-10 regular during the in-season MVP race. The only questions are Dwane Casey’s usage and Lowry’s durability.
DeMar’s Contract Year
DeMar DeRozan, entering a contract year, has proven himself to be a mostly inefficient volume scorer, but a consistent and reliable free-throw presence, an improving defender and passer, and (health permitting) will likely put up career scoring numbers for the Raptors. Further, he’ll probably improve, likely marginally, in at least one aspect of his game. Here’s our piece on DeRozan from Media Day.
DeMarre’s Defensive Presence
DeMarre Carroll will likely prove to be a reliable scorer and an effective defender in Dwane Casey’s defensive schemes, which are focused primarily on sound, rotational help defense and preemptively defending the pick-and-roll. DeMarre’s contribution on many nights will probably be determined by his 3-point accuracy on offense (shot 40% in Atlanta last year) and the talent level of his opposition on defense.
Charged up CoJo
Cory Joseph is simply a stud; and he could probably start on a few teams in the league. At only 24 years of age, with healthy international experience playing for Canada and championship experience in the NBA, Cory Joseph appears to be a young veteran poised for a breakout year. While he’ll be playing behind the aforementioned Lowry who may have another career year, Joseph could often be paired with Lowry in the backcourt, making for an interesting combination in Dwane Casey’s potentially small ball offense.
That leaves us with the unknown. Quite honestly, what we know about this Raptors team is nothing compared to what we don’t. A team that has more new faces than old this year (as compared to last, when almost all pieces were kept intact), the Raptors, after back-to-back division titles the past two years, will be disappointed with anything less than at least one playoff series victory.
Is Patman really Robin?
Patrick Patterson wants to start. And he probably will in 10 days, when the Raptors kick things off for real against the Pacers at the ACC. Based on what we’ve seen with a slow start in the preseason however, it seems like his timing is off. Reading defenses a bit slower than normal, letting a late-game possession slip through his hands in Ottawa against the Wolves, and with no apparent shooting rhythm yet (this might be an early prognosis), Patterson could easily find himself coming off of the bench for the Raps if he doesn’t come back to his mid-season form from last year. It’s not like he’ll be on a short leash, but let’s call it a medium leash given Casey’s option to use the reliable and seemingly ever-ready Luis Scola at the 4.
Patterson after practice on Friday:
The Terrence Ross Journey Continues
Terrence Ross is freaky athletic, a sensational spot up shooter and teases us with his defensive abilities at times. But his only consistency thus far, has been his inconsistency. And now, with an injury to his already surgically repaired ankle, the true nature of the injury, Ross’ work ethic, and ability to anchor the scoring off of the bench remain to be question marks.
Bismack Biyombo’s offense (or lack thereof) has been the subject of most discussions surrounding the former Hornets’ Centre, entering his 5th year as a pro. Here’s our piece on Bismack’s offense earlier this year. While Bismack’s defense will be graciously welcomed by Casey, with most of the scoring load taken on by Lowry, DeRozan and Lou Williams last year, the interior scoring was simply not enough. And if Bismack can’t find a way to be a consistent garbage scorer, or even a reasonable free-throw shooter, his minutes might suffer, especially in critical games or in the playoffs.
Bismack after practice on Friday:
Scoring off of the bench last year was one the key strengths for the Raptors; spearheaded by the 3-pronged attack (quite literally) of 6-man Lou Will, Patrick Patterson, and Greivis Vasquez, the Raptors ranked fifth in the league in bench scoring last year. This year, with all 3 of those players no longer having a bench role with the Raptors, the team will be relying on Terrence Ross, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and James Johnson on most nights to deliver the energy and scoring punch off of the bench. At first glance, the bench doesn’t seem as strong, but time and chemistry will tell.
Dwane Casey’s Status
With a team option on coach Dwane Casey’s contract looming, what it takes from a team performance perspective to bring Casey back next year, is a quite interesting and almost completely unknown question. After winning 49 games last year and suffering an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Wizards in the playoffs, Dwane Casey’s got a lot to prove this season. He has improved regular season performance in every year thus far as head coach of the Raptors, so the likely thresholds for his return would either be a 50-win season or a playoff series victory, or (depending on other factors) both.
Casey spoke to the media on Saturday after practice:
Possible Surprises and X Factors
The mysterious case of Anthony Bennett continues to play itself out. Not much needed to say here except that Bennett could either find himself in the D-League and at the end of the Raptors bench on most nights, or on the other hand, could wind up being a solid rotation player. The Canadian kid and former first-overall draft selection is an athletic, low-risk pick-up by Ujiri. If performance or injuries become a concern for Patterson, Scola and/or Biyombo, Bennett could find himself growing into a real bench role with the Raps. Based on what we’ve seen thus far though, nothing appears to be certain.
Second round draft surprise and summer league standout Norman Powell has shown flashes of brilliance and could be a key rotation player if he is able to work past his slightly undersized body (for the 2 position) with tough defense and a consistent offensive punch. With only Terrence Ross in front of him on the depth chart, combinations of Powell and Lowry or Powell and Cory Joseph may be a common regular season occurrence. The homerism in all of us wants to believe Norman Powell just could be the draft-day steal this team needed.
T minus 10 days – the NBA loves to test our patience this time of year. In the meantime, let’s hope the Jays survive this 0-2 hole and take us all the way to November.