2014-15 IN REVIEW
1st in Atlantic Division
4th in Eastern Conference
The Raptors stayed relatively healthy last season, but DeMar DeRozan missed a little over a month with a torn left adductor longus tendon from late November to early January. Toronto stayed afloat, going 12-9 in his absence while Kyle Lowry put up 21.8 points and 8.7 assists through that 21-game stretch. Lowry went on to average 17.8 points, 6.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game on his way to his first NBA All-Star selection of his career.
Combo guard Lou Williams was huge for the Raptors last season, as well, coming off the bench to put up a career high 15.5 points per game in just 25 minutes, while stepping up consistently in key moments late in games. Williams went on to beat out Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award.
Toronto finished the season 49-33, good for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference but things didn't go nearly as well as they would have hoped in the first round of the playoffs. Matched up with a hungry Washington Wizards squad, the Raptors shot just 41% for the series and were outrebounded by an average of 10 boards per game.
After Paul Pierce broke their hearts with a dagger double-pump three to clinch Game 3, it was all but over. Toronto came into Game 4 on the road down 3-0, and they got absolutely manhandled 125-94 in a more than convincing closeout game to solidify a clean four-game sweep for Washington.
DeMar DeRozan filled the stat sheet all series, averaging 20.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists but both Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams shot a miniscule 31% from the field, while their hands were certainly full on the other end trying to contain Bradley Beal and John Wall.
On the bright side, Greg Stiemsma averaged 90 points per 36 minutes in the series.
SUMMER OF 2015
Key Additions - DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola, Bismack Biyombo
Key Losses - Louis Williams, Amir Johnson, Greivis Vasquez, Tyler Hansbrough
The Raptors were big spenders in the summer of 2015, signing Atlanta Hawks free agent DeMarre Carroll to a four-year, $60 million deal. Carroll is coming off of the best campaign of his six-year career, averaging 12.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while helping Atlanta to the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Of course, $15 million per year is a heck of a price tag for a guy that has never been named to an All-Star squad, but there is no question that he will help Toronto win games and will not only produce on both ends of the floor, he'll provide an enormous emotional spark.
o add depth behind Kyle Lowry, Toronto signed former San Antonio Spur Cory Joseph to a $30 million deal spread out over four years. Joseph has never played more than 18 minutes per game, but he comes from a winning culture and there is no question that he is a gritty two-way performer that is itching for more opportunity to show what he can do. He's just 24 years old with good size at the point guard position (6'3"), he's got a quick first step, he pressures the ball and will provide a much-needed burst of energy off the bench.
With Joseph on hand, first round pick Delon Wright may not get a whole lot of run in his rookie year. Toronto drafted the brother of Portland's Dorell Wright 20th overall in June's draft, and the hope is that the 6'5" combo guard will develop into a strong defensive asset that can affect the game in many different ways with his size, length, athleticism and ball skills.
Toronto lost Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough as free agents this summer, but they went out and added a cast of new bigs to add to the rotation. Veteran Luis Scola signed a one-year deal with the Raptors that will net him $3 million, and the savvy four-man will help provide some stability in the frontcourt. Scola is coming off of a solid year with Indiana where he put up 9.7 points and 6.5 rebounds in around 20 minutes per game.
The other two newcomers up front are wild cards, and it may even be more realistic to expect one of them to pan out. Bismack Biyombo was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, and has yet to come into his own. He has played a role in Charlotte, but has been fairly limited the last two years and has not shown significant improvement. With that said, he's only 23 years old and maybe a fresh start is all he needs.
Anthony Bennett returned home to Canada after being let go by the Timberwolves, and the former number one overall pick has as much to prove as any youngster in the NBA. At this point, maybe "the next Larry Johnson" is out of the question but he is still young enough to where he has a chance to turn his career around and at least make an impact as a rotation player. He's got a lot of intriguing physical tools, but now it's time to show that he belongs.
Toronto also switched up their uniform design this summer (seen in the photo above), going with a more simplistic look. Not bad.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Jonas Valanciunas / Bismack Biyombo / Lucas Nogueira
PF - Patrick Patterson / Luis Scola / Anthony Bennett
SF - DeMarre Carroll / James Johnson / Bruno Caboclo
SG - DeMar DeRozan / Terrence Ross / Norman Powell
PG - Kyle Lowry / Cory Joseph / Delon Wright
X-FACTOR - Jonas Valanciunas
If you ask me, the best chance Toronto has at becoming a more diverse offensive threat is if they feed the big fella on the block a little bit more. Valanciunas has proven that he possesses a quality low-post skill set and he operates at a very efficient rate, shooting 57% from the field last season. Not only can he score with his back to the basket, finish at the rim and knock down a mid-range jumper, but he is also an excellent free throw shooter that has hit 78% from the line.
Valanciunas can absolutely get Toronto more easy buckets, and there is no reason he should only take eight shots per game in 2015-16. It's time to let the skilled seven footer expand, and the only way that is going to happen is if he gets the rock more often.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
Toronto has a good-looking squad, and you can expect them to earn their third consecutive postseason berth barring a catastrophic attack from the injury bug. The Raptors are young but their best players are "young veterans," if you will, and they've got three or four quality guys coming off the bench.
The additions of Carroll and Joseph should help the Raptors improve defensively, and they have the pieces to make things interesting in the east. I'm not sure you can count on 50 wins, but they'll be competitive.
1st in Atlantic Division
6th in Eastern Conference
Additional Raptors Preivews
While it's true Amir Johnson was not the same player he was at his peak, he brought a rebounding and defensive intelligence that Patterson has not quite yet achieved. The undersized Patterson brings range, but he's not the strongest rebounder on either end of the court. Meanwhile, there are still huge questions regarding Valanciunas' ability to defend the pick-and-roll and anchor the team's defense at the rim. And what about Terrence Ross as the key scorer off the Raptors' bench and presumed wing defender they'll need when Carroll rests? I can't put big enough question marks here to cover that particular issue.