Preview: Toronto Raptors

2017-18 Toronto Raptors


Projected Record: 53-29 (3rd in East)

Over/Under: 48.5

2016: 51-31 (3rd in East)


Key Additions:

  • G/F C.J. Miles
  • F O.G. Anunoby

Key Subtractions:

  • F Patrick Patterson
  • F P.J. Tucker
  • F DeMarre Carroll
  • G Cory Joseph

Summary

Strengths:

  • Roster consistency
  • Experience
  • Depth

Weaknesses:

  • Defense could regress
  • Frontcourt depth is young
  • Still have to play LeBron

Amidst all the chaos of this year’s NBA offseason, the Raptors largely kept to themselves. They lost some valuable players – Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker, and Cory Joseph were all notable bench piecs – but they locked up Norman Powell, brought in an underrated marksman in C.J. Miles, and grabbed one of my favorite picks of the draft in OG Anunoby, while keeping the core of the team that tied for second-most wins in the Eastern Conference last season together.

It might not be sexy or exciting, but the Raptors’ consistency will matter this year as so many teams around the league adjust to new acquisitions. The Celtics, incredibly, returned only four players from last year’s top-seeded roster, while the Cavaliers have to incorporate new faces like Isaiah Thomas (who is also injured) and Dwyane Wade. These teams are going to have awkward stretches while they figure out how all these pieces fit together, and the business-as-usual Raptors should look to take advantage.

The Raptors are returning nearly all the key pieces of a team that was one Kyle Lowry injury away from possibly stealing the top overall seed in the East; Lowry missed 22 games last season, and they finished only two games out, in a tie with Cleveland. They’re a little thinner than they were last year, at least for now, but I think they’ve become sort of overlooked as playoff contenders by the basketball community at large. The East as a whole is worse than it was last season, and the Raptors are at least the same. That means something.

They’ve historically performed poorly in the playoffs, particularly Lowry and DeRozan, and if that doesn’t change this year, they might have to discuss changes. Milwaukee is up-and-coming and gave them a tough time in the first round last year, the Sixers look a few years away from being a juggernaut, and the Celtics are now incredibly young after their retool. LeBron’s uncertain future with Cleveland leaves the long-term outlook of the entire East unclear, so I can’t say their window is necessarily closing – if LeBron bolts for Houston or Los Angeles and the Raptors keep this group together, it’s likely them versus Boston for a berth in the Finals next year. The window is getting tight, though. They’ll have to figure out how to break through soon, or it’ll be closed before they know it.


Most Valuable Player: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan

You can tell a lot about a basketball fan by their opinion on DeMar DeRozan, who has become one of the NBA’s most polarizing figures. He’s an old-school volume scorer, the kind who would have been beloved in the early-2000s; he relies heavily on mid-range jumpers and fadeaways, and he’s one of the league’s worst three-point shooters. Despite his physical profile, he’s a negative on the defensive end. Box Plus-Minus doesn’t like him, and VORP considers him just sort of fine.

I understand both sides of the DeRozan debate, and hesitate to fully commit on him in either direction. He’s not a superstar, in my eyes, but I think it may be possible that volume scorers who operate more on usage than efficiency are a little underrated in the eyes of hardcore fans. DeRozan played a big role in keeping the Raptors afloat after Kyle Lowry broke his wrist last season, and while he could be much better, I think there’s value in what he brings. If he were to ever step up on the defensive end or start hitting threes at even a league-average rate, the stardom a lot of fans see in him might actually become reality. He’ll be 28 years old this season, though, so the odds are that he is who he is at this stage. The Raptors will take that for the time being.

Kyle Lowry, meanwhile, is the superstar people want DeRozan to be. He’s among the best point guards in basketball, and he’s improved every season that he’s been with Toronto. Last season’s new wrinkle: he started drilling three-pointers at a 40% rate, after having settled into the 37-38% range the previous few years. He’s a plus defender, a great facilitator, and the engine that keeps the Raptors moving. It would probably benefit the Raptors to find more opportunities to rest Lowry, who played a massive 37 minutes per game last season while healthy, but the only other point guards on this roster are Delon Wright (who has been fine) and Fred VanVleet.

X Factor: OG Anunoby

Having not followed the Raptors too closely during the preseason, I had honestly just assumed that it would still be some time before we would see OG Anunoby take the court in the NBA, thanks to the ACL injury he suffered last season at Indiana. Anunoby, though, actually did take the court for Toronto’s final two preseason games, and looked pretty decent despite some rust. It’ll be some time before Anunoby is ready to play real minutes in the NBA and contribute to the Raptors’ wing rotation – he might not even get there this year – but him taking the court in a live game is a huge step forward.

My Anunoby fandom is as huge as his ridiculous 7’3″ wingspan. He’s going to be an awesome NBA player before long, with great length and athleticism, advanced defensive ability, and signs of effective long-range shooting. The Raptors are a little thin on the wings with P.J. Tucker and DeMarre Carroll both gone; if Anunoby can get into peak condition by the end of the year and chip in off the bench, it could provide a huge boost.


Conclusion

The Raptors didn’t have an exciting offseason, but they had a reasonable one, and their consistency will prove valuable in an NBA landscape that features a lot of teams adjusting to new-look rosters. The Cavaliers have a number of new faces that will need to be incorporated this year, and Boston incredibly only retained four members of last year’s top-seeded team. There’s an opportunity to be had for the Raptors here, who presumably won’t go through the same ups-and-downs.

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