Toronto Raptors Season Preview

Bringing Back the Raptors

Remember the days of Vince Carter? The days of Chris Bosh? The days where the Raptors were actually,well, good? Yeah, me either. They’re so far gone and its been a while since they’ve been talked about in a positive manner.

When people think of the Raptors, they think of the team that Kobe dropped 81 points on. They don’t remember about Chris Bosh carrying that team into the postseason. No, when they think of Bosh, rather, they think about how he left them high and dry for the Heat.

The Raptors aren’t bad–they really just need to get back into the groove of things. Behind all of the embarrassing moments in Raptor history, they have had their fair share of respectable ones.

They seem to be on the uptick as of now. Over the passed few seasons, they’ve drafted relatively well and have made great hires. The most notable one is head coach Dwane Casey.

The Casey hiring seems to be the right move. Casey is exactly what the Raptors need–a no-nonsense coach that preaches defense and fundamentals. In Casey’s first season with the Raptors he managed to bring a defensive edge to the team that they lacked under Jay Triano.

The Raptors were 26th out of 30 teams in points allowed per game at 105.4 ppg. Casey’s coaching brought that total down all the way to 94 points per contest which ranked ninth in the league last season.

He turned Demar Derozan into a functional perimeter player who had a much improved shot selection, transformed James Johnson, who was widely unknown before last season, into a very good player instead of a marginal one and he put Andrea Bargnani in position to maximize his potential.

Casey didn’t seem like much before last season, but now I’m a believer. He’s a very good coach who’s amazing at player development. With the Raptors being a young team on the come-up, they’ll need him for sure.

Talking about Jonas

Jonas Valanciunas is going to be a key part of what the Raptors do on both ends of the floor. With how patient the Raptors were able to be it’s obvious that they believe he can do that. I do as well.

Valanciunas is very dominant for such a young talent. The 6’11”, 231 pound stud dominated in the FIBA U-19 World Championships a year ago by averaging 23 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game.

He helped Lithuania qualify for the 2012 London Olympic Games this summer during Eurobasket last year where he averaged 8.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in only 15 minutes.

He’s got the fundamentals and pro experience for the pro game and I think that his transition will be effortless.

He’s got NBA size and skill as he’s a very good rebounder and passer from the center position.  He’s not as adept in the post as you like, but he’s a very good screener and roller to the basket.

As a defender the fundamentals and raw talent is there but he’ll need to develop a defensive sense as an NBA player just as most rookies do. Its going to take time for him to transition defensively, but it may not be as long as other rookies transitions are because of his professional play overseas.

With players like Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani around him Jonas’ job is going to be easy to do. Kyle Lowry is a very good pick and roll player and Bargnani is going to be able to spread the floor to provide Valanciunas with space under the rim for easy rebounds and scores.

They’ve got one hell of a puzzle piece in Valanciunas and things are starting to come together for the Raptors.

Minute Allocation

The Raptors have gain and lost some key components this offseason. A majority of their moves, in my opinion, were positive ones. The only negative move I think they made was poison pilling Landry Fields in an effort to get Steve Nash from the Suns.

Now they’re stuck with Landry Fields on a three year deal for about $20 million. That’s something that could come back to bite them if they’re stuck in the lottery, but it could be a good piece at the same time.

They’ve got a team that has an above average player at every position really. They’ve also got two top 15 point guards on their team–and I suspect that Jose Calderon will be traded soon–but that’s always something good to have.

Here is how I think their minutes will play out.

Starters

Kyle Lowry- 32.5 Mpg

Demar Derozan- 31.3 Mpg

Landry Fields- 28.3 Mpg

Andrea Bargnani- 33.1 Mpg

Jonas Valanciunas- 29.6 Mpg

Reserves

Jose Calderon- 23.1 Mpg

Amir Johnson- 25.2 Mpg

Terrence Ross- 24.5 Mpg

Ed Davis- 22.7 Mpg

John Lucas, III- 18.2 Mpg

Jamaal Magloire- 15.3 Mpg

Alan Anderson- 17.7 Mpg

Linas Kleiza – 18.2 Mpg

Aaron Gray- 15.1 Mpg

Conclusion

The Toronto Raptors have put together a team that, on paper, looks like it could actually be a force to be reckoned with. With the coaching of Dwane Casey and the talent that has been amassed over years of lottery dwelling, the Raptors could see a Pacer-circa-2011-transformation.

They’ve got five players who were considered lottery talent on their team this season. They’ve obviously got the talent. They just have to put it all together and make it work. That’s the hard part.

I think it can be done. They’re a sleeper team in the East this season. They could content for anywhere between the fifth and the eighth seed.

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