Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
The Raptors are an inescapably frustrating team, and should have posted a better record than 34-48 in 2012-13. They appeared largely rudderless in the waning weeks of the season, trading for maxed out non-star Rudy Gay in a three-team deal that used up Jose Calderon’s (their best player at the time) $10 million expiring contract and not making any other easily discernible “future” moves.
Over the summer, however, the Raptors lured Masai Ujiri away from the Denver Nuggets in order to be their new general manager. The mostly useless Bryan Colangelo was moved to a team president role, only to step down just over a month later. Scouting, player acquisitions, and the like are now entirely run by Ujiri, who did a fantastic job in rebuilding the Nuggets on the fly in the wake of the Carmelo Anthony trade. In fact, the Nuggets never really “rebuilt”, in the traditional sense. They just kept getting better.
So what has Ujiri done thus far? Well, he’s rid the roster of former number one overall pick and horribly player Andrea Bargnani by foisting him off on the Knicks. And while there haven’t been any other major moves, there is no question that Ujiri simply performed a masterful addition by subtraction trade, and the Raptors are already significantly better off for it after shedding an inefficient, poor-rebounding, mediocre defending big man.
Toronto’s first round pick in the 2013 draft, which would have been #12 overall, was sent to the the Thunder through the Houston Rockets as part of the Kyle Lowry trade, and their second round pick was part of the Rudy Gay trade prior to the deadline. The Raptors are the rare rebuilding team that have no new draft picks entering training camp, and will move forward with largely the same players that finished last season with the squad.
The likely starting lineup that includes Lowry, Demar DeRozan, Gay, and Jonas Valanciunas is actually decent, albeit still not terribly efficient or sure how to use their immense collective talents. Valanciunas had an encouraging rookie year and could develop into a star, and Lowry is a very good point guard, but DeRozan and Gay are going to make or break how successful the Raptors’ offensive attack is in 2013-14.
Gay was jettisoned from the Memphis Grizzlies largely because of the impending luxury tax penalty that they would have faced, but also because his inefficient offensive game that revolved around long two-point shots. Gay plays most effectively as a power forward, but isn’t a sharpshooter and doesn’t dominate in the post. In Memphis, he didn’t fit great along with two post players in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
In Toronto, he’ll have a chance to have the offense revolve around him for the most part, but if he’s having an off night, the Raptors will definitely have their share of issues scoring points. DeRozan’s offensive game is eerily similar to Gay’s at times, and Toronto’s point totals could be suppressed by their sudden lack of shooters, this side of Lowry and the occasional Steve Novak cameo.
Best Case Scenario
If Valanciunas blossoms on schedule, he could emerge as a borderline star in just his second year and age-21 season. Assuming Lowry returns to relative health and even if we don’t expect Gay or DeRozan to improve their offensive efficiency, this team should out-win last year’s edition. If we factor in some improvement from DeRozen and possibly Gay, we could potentially pencil the Raptors in for 36-39 wins.
Worst Case Scenario
The bench is virtually nonexistent, relying largely on non-scorers Tyler Hansbrough and Aaron Gray and oft-injured and non-efficient players like Landry Fields. The starting lineup could struggle to score at a reasonable rate and defend, and there is no guarantee that Valanciunas will improve on schedule. Things could get ugly, and 30-33 wins seems like a reasonable floor for this group.
Most Likely Outcome
I like the direction that this team is heading, with Ujiri at the helm and coach Dwayne Casey behind the bench. Valanciunas’ potential is undeniable, and Lowry was a top 12-15 point guard just two years ago. I don’t like the pairing of DeRozan and Gay, and the bench could be one of the worst in the league. The lack of depth and overall youth will catch up with this team, so I’ll go with 34-37 wins with a decent chance at slightly outpacing last year’s win total, if only because of the subtraction of Bargnani.
|Toronto Raptors (22)|
|Boston Celtics (24)||Charlotte Bobcats (26)|
|Orlando Magic (27)|
|Los Angeles Lakers (23)|
|Sacramento Kings (25)|