Though I like the new defensive direction of the team, as do many other Raptors fans, any knowledgeable Raptor fan knows that this team still has yet to prove that they belong in the NBA playoffs with the big boys, let alone actually putting up a fight to six or seven games when they get there. However, I do think the odds are in favour of the Raptors getting back to post-season basketball, for better or for worse.
Now, although it’s tough to know exactly what to expect for this new Raptors squad, here’s my take on what we can expect from the Raptors looking into the brand new season.
Yes, playoffs are a real possibility for the Raptors after making the necessary offseason moves to not only improve the starting lineup of the team, but to also improve the overall defense.
Although many of the NBA predictions I have looked at have the Raptors on the outside looking in, I do believe that the Raptors are one of the sleeper teams going into this season, and could prove the doubters wrong, even if they do only play four games of playoff ball.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I expect the Raptors to even come close to winning the division, or even get higher than the 8th seed. But it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see a first round matchup of the Heat and the Raptors in April. Nor should it really surprise anyone. This team has improved enough to potentially call itself one of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.
2. All Star Possibility
The Raptors going into this season hold two key pieces that could become a part of all star weekend, one obviously, being more likely than the other. And no, that does not mean DeMar DeRozan being involved in the dunk contest again.
I actually think with the right system in place, Kyle Lowry can take the next step in his career and be a reserve guard on the Eastern Conference All Star roster. He is a relentless defender, a capable scorer, and an above average rebounder for a point guard, who is a constant triple-double threat.
If Casey gives him the green light on the court to score and push the ball in the open floor, Lowry can once again improve on his impressive numbers from the past two seasons.
A second, but very unlikely player would be Andrea Bargnani, who could make an appearance as well, but it is also dependant on two factors. One being him getting back to the first 13 games he played last season, and the second is him being eligible as a “center”.
Let’s face it, he doesn’t stand a chance of being picked over the likes of James, Bosh, Anthony, Stoudemire, Pierce, Garnett, Smith, etc at the forward spot, even as a reserve. So the only way I’m saying he does get into All Star weekend is if he’s backing up Andrew Bynum or Tyson Chandler. Or, obviously, one of them being injured.
Yes, that’s a lot of “if’s”, I know. But, I did say it was very unlikely.
Yes, I know good depth isn’t as important as a good starting lineup in the NBA, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that the Raptors are among one of the deepest teams in the league. The only teams that I would say definitely have a better bench than the Raptors being Boston, Denver, Houston, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio.
So yes, the depth of the Raptors could make a huge difference this year. Especially now that Jose Calderon will be a part of it, as long as he is a member of the Raptors. Calderon will not only play a much different style than Lowry when he’s on the floor (which may work to their advantage), but he will also help transition the young Raptors to the NBA. It should really help the offense on the second unit by getting get guys like Ross, Davis, and Valanciunas easy looks offensively.
When looking at a player like Ed Davis, who I think is still a starting quality PF, Calderon might be a blessing in disguise for him. Having him play most of his minutes with a pass-first point guard like Calderon may finally give him the opportunity to show that. However, if the Raptors don’t intend on keeping the young big man long term, it could also help boost his trade value.
4. Improved Defense
Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross, Quincy Acy, Jonas Valanciunas, and Dominic McGuire are basically all of the offseason additions to the team in just this past season. They all share one thing in common. They are all either above average defenders, or have the ability to become above average defenders.
So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when the Raptors become one of the better teams in the league next season at least defensively. A feat that was almost unheard of when you consider that not too long ago, the Raptors were amongst the worst, if not the worst defensive team under its former coaches Sam Mitchell and Jay Triano.
However, with Dwane Casey now at the reigns, the Raptors are set to finally become one of the league’s top defensive teams. Now, if you want to play meaningful basketball in April, this is definitely a step in the right direction.
5. Coach of the Year
No, believe me; it’s not as farfetched as some of you may think. Casey was getting noticed last season for his work with the team even with its shortened training camp. Now, with an improved roster, a more defensive oriented team, and a full training camp heading into this season, I think that Casey will make a legitimate case for the Coach of the Year award now that he has more of a team that will fit his style.
Look, if Casey gets this team from 23-43 and a .35 win % to a 40-42 (my prediction) and a .49 win %, you will hear his name as a candidate. A playoff birth would probably put him as a lock to win it.
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4th in Atlantic Division
8th in Eastern Conference