Projected record: 47-35 (3rd in East)
Head coach: Dwane Casey
2013-14 record: 48-34
2013-14 ORtg: 105.8 (9th)
2013-14 DRtg: 102.4 (T-9th)
Players in: Bruno Caboclo, Will Cherry, Jordan Hamilton, James Johnson, Lou Williams, rights to DeAndre Daniels
Players out: Dwight Buycks, Steve Novak, Julyan Stone
Projected Starting Lineup: Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas
The Raptors are the anti-Nets.
That’s probably a good thing.
The Nets are old, overpaid, past their primes, and perpetually in a state of roster transition. The Raptors are young, properly compensated, headed towards their peak, and have managed to build and maintain a core for multiple seasons.
They’re a team trending upward. The nucleus of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas are climbing towards their respective peaks. They have a gritty, competitive identity, crafted by their defensive-minded head coach, Dwane Casey.
Offensively, Toronto can hurt you in a multitude of ways, starting with Lowry. Toronto’s ace playmaker is a force of nature that propels Toronto’s offense forward. He gets his steady dose of ball screens, granting him the space needed to puncture opposing defenses, and he pinballs his way to the hoop for fouls and layups. Lowry mixes technique with a dose of fearlessness and agitation. That fearlessness gives him the stones to launch pull-up threes without fear of consequence, and the agitation is felt by those tasked to deal with him.
Riding shotgun with Lowry is Valanciunas and DeRozan. Valanciunas operates most efficiently in the most expensive piece of realty on an NBA court – the 5 square feet directly in front of the rim. He’s huge, but still just quite nimble enough to get to that spot of the court frequently and he’s deft enough around the basket to finish over either shoulder.
DeRozan is the epitome of what most would call a slasher. He’s quick and athletic and has a knack for drawing fouls. Shooting is the weakest part of DeRozan’s game, yet it’s not quite a weakness. And, with a solid playoff debut and now a stint on Team USA DeRozan’s amassing the kind of quality reps that leaps a player forward.
Defensively the Raptors are solid if not unspectacular. Last season, their defensive rating was only slightly above average. As noted, Casey specializes in that side of the ball, so schematically and competitively the Raptors will always show up, yet they harbor some of the same issues that plagued them from last year, mainly size on the wing. The Nets beat that weakness to death in last year’s playoffs, beating them into submission with Joe Johnson. DeRozan is their best bet in defending beefier wings (think Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, etc.), but the Raptors still lack for great options.
They’re still a clear notch below the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, yet they could contend for that not-terribly-coveted spot of “best of the rest” in the East.