With a list full of talented, young players, the Toronto Raptors may seem primed for a run at the playoffs. They just seem to lack that special element that makes teams win. Other young teams in the East looking to move up like Cleveland and Washington have that franchise guy they can build around moving forward, and nobody on Toronto has proven they can foot that bill as of yet. Still, at least three playoff spots in the East are ripe for the picking and if Toronto plays their cards right, they could end their postseason draught.
The Raptor’s thought they had their long term answer at point guard with the acquisition of Kyle Lowry on draft day last season. Lowry has retained the starting spot, but fell out of favor with coaches over his inconsistent play. Toronto thought they had a borderline-elite point guard when the trade took place, now they know they just have a pretty good one. Lowry is productive in a number of areas, plays good defense and can look electric at times, but his hot and cold nature and lack of size limit him.
Lowry’s staring spot is in no danger because Toronto lacks anybody even close to him on the bench. Free agent D.J. Augustin wasn’t very effective as Indiana’s number two point guard after starting several seasons in Charlotte. Given minutes, Augustin is a solid playmaker, but his offense has been inconsistent at best.
Dwight Buycks impressed the Raptors with his showing in the NBA Summer League and earned a one-year contract (1). Buycks will get every opportunity to earn minutes if he has a strong training camp.
DeMar DeRozan has the athleticism and size the teams crave on the wings. He’s shown steady improvement throughout his career and gives the team a point producer on a nightly basis. DeRozan’s primary flaw is that he has yet to gain any consistency in his outside shooting, which will limit his overall productivity as defenders can play off of him knowing he needs to get to the hoop to be effective. But despite that, DeRozan has gone three straight seasons averaging over 16ppg. His defense could also stand to improve.
Second year man Terrence Ross will be counted on for heavy minutes behind DeRozan, and possibly Rudy Gay as well. Ross had a decent showing as a rookie, though he needs to improve his shot selection, and he has more potential as a defender than either DeRozan or Gay at this point.
After coming from New York as a restricted free agent, Landry Fields has a disappointing first year with the Raptors. Injuries played a part in that, but Toronto will need his versatility and defensive ability on the wings if they hope to improve.
Rudy Gay is a natural born scorer. And without question, he can be very good at it. The question does lie on whether his abilities are enough to be the go-to-guy on a playoff team. Gay made the postseason with Memphis, and although he was their primary offensive weapon, he had a lot of support and the fact that the Grizzlies still managed to make the Western Conference finals after letting him go has to make you wonder if they knew something the rest of the league didn’t.
If Toronto has serious hopes of making the postseason, Gay will have to be that player. It isn’t a question of talent, more one of consistency and developing the killer instinct that teams need in a lead player.
As at the two-guard, the Raptors enter the season with multiple options behind the starter at the three. And as with shooting guard, expect hefty minutes from Ross and Fields.
Steve Novak, acquired from the Knicks via trade, is a shooter and nothing but. He’ll have to continue hitting his three’s at a high percentage to prove his worth as the other areas of his game leave something to be desired.
Free agent Austin Daye has been a talented, but ultimately disappointing, young player to this point with Detroit and Memphis. Daye is tall for a wing, and has the quickness and skill set to be effective on both ends of the court. He has yet to put it all together, but if the coaching staff can coax him into unleashing his potential, Toronto could have a real find.
Amir Johnson is the kind of steady, workmanlike presence every team loves to have at the power positions. Whether the team can move forward with him as the starter is another question. Johnson is a good defender, solid rebounder, and takes high percentage shots. He doesn’t command much attention down low however, and that would ideally put him more in a backup role. The Raptors however, don’t have a better option at this point, so expect Johnson to continue with his solid, if unspectacular play.
Tyler Hansbrough is another effort guy who will be right behind Johnson on the depth chart. Like Johnson, he’s a tough defender/rebounder type, but isn’t as effective as the starter offensively.
Novak or Daye could provide a stretch presence at the four, though their games are better suited for the perimeter positions.
Jonas Valanciunas followed a promising rookie season with an outstanding Summer League that has many looking forward to watching him in Toronto this year. He preformed as good as could have been expected after being thrust into a starting role in his first year and should continue to improve. He still has a way to go on the defensive end, but he has the scoring and passing potential of an all-star big man.
Depth behind Valanciunas is a bit shoddy. Veteran Arron Gray is a good rebounder, but doesn’t offer much else and always plays very limited minutes.
If a new face isn’t brought in Hansbrough and Johnson will have to move over from the four to provide support.
Based on potential alone, Toronto has what it takes to sneak into the lower tier of the Eastern Conference playoffs. But putting that potential together and making it jell into a team will be a more difficult task. The Raptors have an outside chance to grab the seventh or eighth seed this year, but it’s more likely they will fall a little short of that mark.