CelticsLife Atlantic Division Preview: The Toronto Raptors

2013/14 Record: 48-34

Expected Starting Lineup & Summary

Kyle Lowry
DeMar Derozan
Terrence Ross
Ahmir Johnson
Jonas Valancunias

The Toronto Raptors were quietly one of the league's better stories last season. A bunch of good guys (who couldn't wait to tell anyone who would listen how much fun basketball can be when Rudy Gay's not on your team) playing in front of a tremendous fan base that's been starving for competitive basketball for a while now.

Though they ended the season on a bit of a down night, losing to the Nets in the first round, the season was a pleasant surprise. Going from a team that was going through a FIRE (!) sale to a team that was able to put all that aside and finish third in the Eastern Conference.

Best Dunk of 2013/14

Sure, that was there best dunk. But why limit ourselves to just one Terrence Ross dunk?

New Faces, New Places

Key Additions: Lou Williams, Jordan Hamilton, James Johnson
Key Losses: John Salmons, Steve Novak

Here in lies the issue with the Toronto Raptors this season. It's unclear how much better they can get.

Lou Williams is a very nice addition. He has the reputation of an offensive spark plug, something he is. He can get really hot, really quick, and take over games for a minutes at a time. But unlike many that deserve this reputation, Williams is actually a sound player even when he's not totally 'on.' He's a good shooter from range, excellent secondary playmaker, and actually plays pretty decent defense for his size.

But clearly if this team aspires to be substantially better, they need their players who were already in-house to improve. And while this is for the most part a relatively young team, to me, it seems like a lot of their players have hit their ceiling when it comes to potential.

Kyle Lowry played brilliantly last year. He's a bulldog defensively, more than capable jump shooter, and excellent at getting to the rim. He's also nearly 29 years old, and entering his ninth year in the league. Not that you can get mad about getting an efficient 19 points, and 7 assists per game. But you also can't expect him to get exponentially better. Likewise, Demar Derozan might've been slightly more aggressive last year, buy it certainly feels like we've seen the best-version of him at this point; He's an athletic wing, who despite his wiry frame, also does a very good job at finding looks in the paint. But his defense is average at best, and he's a truly poor 3 point shooter whose only been able to slightly elevate his shooting percentages over the past 5 seasons.

It lies on Terrence Ross and Jonas Valancunias to get better. And I think they can do it.

Valancunias certainly has the skill set. He's a physical 6 foot 11 center, with an acceptable midrange game, a good rebounder, a surprisingly intelligent passer, and he's go the drive to be a good defensive player. You''ll notice that I used the word 'drive.' He's not an exceptionally good defender right now. Despite his size, speed, and athleticism, he's not an impact player on the defensive side yet - frequently looking lost on defense (particularly in the pick and roll/pop game) to the point that the Raptors would turn to Patrick Patterson to finish games for them.

The good news for Raptors fans is that this is only Valancunias' third season in the NBA (he's 22), and these struggles are typical of a young big man. Valancunias clearly has the skill set to be a great defender, but he's also got a pretty good motor on him. It would seem like drastic improvements on that end would only be a matter of time.

And then there's Terrence Ross..... OK, confession. I love Terrence Ross. Love him. Like, I'm listening to Brian McKnight's 'Anytime' while I write this love him as a player. If that makes you the reader uncomfortable, I'm sorry, I'm just an emotional guy.

Most see Ross' 51 point game from last season as a complete oddity, but I'm not so sure. I mean, I don't expect him to put up those kind of points on a nightly basis (at least not in his third year) I don't think it's as 'weird' as others do. Ross, to this point has been a a 'take what he can get' kind of player. Meaning he's not one to force shots. What differentiates him from your usual 'take what he can get' kind of guys (here's looking at you Jeff Green) is that he's super-intelligent when it comes to knowing where he should be on the court at all time to best space for his teammates. If you review the video above, you'll see that most of Ross' points comes on shots where Ross moved to an open space and a teammate was able to find him.

But if he wants to get to the next level, he'll need to become more assertive. He's capable of more than just running off picks (something he's really, really good at) and finding space. While he's not a top-notch play maker by any means, he's not a complete mess off the dribble, and his ridiculous athleticism allows him to be an elite finisher. That's not just on plays that result in dunks, it's also in cases where he's able to attack the rim, initiate some contact, hang in the air and contort his body to allow him an easier shot.

Like Jonas, this is also Ross' third year in the league, but I think this will be more of a telling year for Ross. The progression for a wing doesn't usually take as long as it does for a big. I think this is the year we'll find out if Ross has any alpha-male in him.

But for now, more Terrence Ross dunks

Padraic O'Connor's 'Will They Make A Trade?'

Don’t look now, but the Raptors are looking legit. I’m nearly positive they’re going to win the Atlantic Division and they might just cause a few upsets in the playoffs. After years of mediocre seasons and watching their best players leave Toronto for greener pastures, the Raptors are poised to be a threat in 2014-15.

Should Toronto make a move this season, it would most likely be a move to add strength in specific areas as they prep for the playoffs - similar to how the Thunder added Perkins in 2011-12 season. They are a well rounded, young, explosive team this season; they don’t need too much as it looks right now. Despite their new found standing atop the Atlantic Division and proficiency on the stat sheet, Toronto has something most “good on paper” teams don’t- chemistry. Chemistry driven teams rarely make trades especially mid-season. As Celtics fans know all too well, chemistry can win titles or derail teams all together. You don’t screw with Ubuntu.


Mike Dyer's "Scorching Hot Take"
The Raptors Will Be In The Eastern Conference Finals

I'll be honest, I really wanted to write "The Raptors will be in the second round of the playoffs" but that didn't seem scorching hot enough, so I'm rolling the dice and going one step further.

While an ECF berth may seem extreme, I do firmly believe this is the 3rd best team in the East behind Cleveland and Chicago, and with the Bulls relying on Derrick Rose's knee, and both Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol having some injury issues over the last few years (Noah's knee will reportedly bother him all season), I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility for Toronto to find themselves playing for a trip to the Finals come May.

Matt has laid out the roster already, but it's important to note just how much of last season's 48 win team is returning. Kyle Lowry is back, DeMar DeRozan is coming off his breakout season, Terrance Ross continues to improve, Amir Johnson is widely considered to be one of the most efficient players in the NBA, and Jonas Valanciunas is only 22-years old and coming off an 11 and 9 season.

Oh, and they added Lou Williams, who will likely come off the bench with Grevis Vazquez, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough, and the man, the myth, the legend Greg Stiemsma.

This team has depth, youth, and now experience after last season's playoff berth/crushing Game 7 defeat against the Nets.

Toronto is going to run away with the division, and with a little luck, they'll be battling LeBron for a trip to the Finals.

Toronto Raptors over/under: 49.5

Richissin: Under
O'Connor: Over
Dyer: Over