2017-18 Preview: Toronto Raptors

By Josh Eberley #41

When the battle is lost but the war wages on, the troops left standing have no choice but to march back and wait until the next whistle blows. After a humiliating defeat, the Raptors had to trudge their way back to the 6ix. The heavy-hearted stumble was one of sorrow, disdain and uncertainty in regards to their immediate future. Two straight years of losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers with a mitt full of pending free agents on deck. The end of the Raptors golden era seemed questionable, if not probable. After a good deal of speculation, Raptors president Masai Ujiri committed to a timeline. Three years. Both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka received three-year deals to match DeMar DeRozan’s existing contract. (DeRozan has a player option for year four.) The Raptors are betting on themselves to get over the hump during this upcoming three-year period and one can only commend their resilience in the face of intense adversity.

Raptors 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Bruno Caboclo, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poetl, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Noguiera, Fred VanVleet
Newcomers C.J. Miles, K.J. McDaniels OG Anunoby, Kennedy Meeks
Gone  Cory Joseph DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson
Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: The Toronto Raptors have an opportunity to improve offensively this year. Starting Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas gives them five guys who can put the ball in the hoop, all of whom do it in different ways. The Raptors had the sixth best offense last season in terms of offensive rating but owned only the 13th best mark from the three-point line.

If you’re a long-standing Raptors fan the idea of getting some legit floor spacing around the healthy All-Star backcourt must excite you immensely. DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross and Rudy Gay all failed as a floor spacer in the starting unit. Miles was one of the most slept-on three-point shooters in the League last year. Of the 48 players to attempt five or more attempts from deep last season, Miles ranked fifth in three-point percentage. Only Klay Thompson, C.J. McCollum, J.J. Redick and Kyle Korver stroked it at a higher rate.

The Raptors best offensive lineup will likely be a small-ball unit spearheaded by Ibaka at the 5, Miles and DeRozan at the forward positions and Norman Powell subbing in for Valanciunas. The Raptors need to commit to a pace and space style of play, the heavy bouts of isolation they are prone to has failed them repeatedly. Whether it’s DeRozan in the midrange or Valanciunas with his back to the basket, it just doesn’t fly come the playoffs.

There should be a level of awareness that comes from having the same core for an extended period. Head coach Dwane Casey needs to help mold this unit into a more progressive group. It’s his seventh season as the Toronto bench boss and his greatest challenge might come from forcing established veterans to grow in new ways. 

Defense: Defense not offense is the area of sleepless nights for Casey, Ujiri and Toronto fans not madly in love with Valanciunas. The hard truth: Valanciunas needs to come off the bench and or play a lot less minutes this season. There was a time where Valanciunas deserved a greater opportunity but his lack of mobility and rim protection make him a liability in today’s game. Think of Enes Kanter and the role he had with Oklahoma City. The high energy and great finishing ability is an asset against second units but there’s a reason Kanter never got major minutes in the playoffs. The Raptors need someone in the middle who can erase defensive shortcomings, not add to them.

Many see former Ute and current Raptors sophomore Jakob Poeltl usurping Valanciunas to solidify the defense, but it should be Lucas Nogueira stepping up. Bebe (Nogueira) had the 15th best mark of all defenders in DRPM last season. His on/off net rating was the best of every big on the roster (Ibaka included). He’s only 25 years old and has never seen starter minutes. A lineup of Bebe, Ibaka, Miles, Powell, and Lowry offers a ton of defensive versatility. The Raptors have the talent in house to improve but it’s on Casey to find and utilize said talent.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The onus for growth on the perimeter defensively starts with DeRozan. Forget the shot selection and the lack of a modern offensive arsenal, DeRozan’s greatest flaw is his lack of effort and initiative defensively. DeRozan has been an All-Star in three of the last four seasons and has yet to have a positive on/off net rating. DRPM, DBPM, the eye-test,  you name it—whatever indicator you choose to put stock in paints DeRozan as a poor defender. DeRozan has otherworldly athleticism. You see the burst, the footwork, and the strength routinely on offense. It’s completely unacceptable that an All-NBA talent continues to be a negative on defense, especially when the tools are all so clearly there.

Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

Durability: The Raptors have not been fortunate in the injuries department. Pascal Siakam started half of last season out of necessity not desire. Lowry missed the end of the playoffs, DeRozan has missed time in the past. Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka are also not young by NBA standards. Casey needs to make a concerted effort to rest his stars and not overwork them in what should be a pedestrian regular season campaign in the weak Eastern Conference.

Synergy: Chemistry matters. You’ll never convince anyone that has ever played this game or any game for that matter otherwise. Relationships matter. DeRozan and Lowry appear to really enjoy each other, don’t take that for granted. The Raptors don’t have the talent of the top teams but they do have a strong unit that seems to enjoy playing together. A word of caution here: the departed Patrick Patterson was beloved and always credited as a great locker room guy. He will be missed.

Experience: The Raptors have played the fifth most playoff games over the last four years. They are notoriously underwhelming come the postseason but they have been there consistently for nearly half a decade. Maybe this is the year their experience out weighs the mental mistakes.

Win frame: 45-50 wins


2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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