2015-16 NBA Record: 56-26
Additions: Jared Sullinger (Boston Celtics), Jakob Poltl (draft)
Subtractions: Bismack Biyombo (Orlando Magic), James Johnson (Miami Heat), Luis Scola (Brooklyn Nets), Anthony Bennett (Brooklyn Nets)
Projected Starting Line-up:
PG – Kyle Lowry
SG – DeMar DeRozan
SF – DeMarre Carroll
PF – Jared Sullinger
C – Jonas Valanciunas
The last few seasons has turned Canadian basketball into a new golden age, with the Raptors rising into playoff contenders. Last season, Toronto took last year’s champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to six games in the Eastern Conference finals. This year, they’ll be hoping to return to the same spot and go one better. They locked up star DeMar DeRozan to a 5 year/$137.5 million max deal, which was their biggest offseason move. Unfortunately, they lost Bismack Biyombo but found replacements in Jared Sullinger and Jakob Poltl.
DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are Toronto’s top duo and will be relied upon if the Raptors are to return to the Conference Finals. DeRozan is the best offensive weapon on this team, averaging 23.5 points last season. He’s improved his range, starting to feel more confident from downtown, but he’s at his best when attacking the rim. He’s a dynamic and explosive finisher and brings the excitement that Vince Carter once brought to Canada. When he’s not finishing at the rim, his ability to draw fouls is among the best and he has a great free throw percentage which helps late in games. His backcourt partner Lowry has come of age since he arrived in Toronto, where he’s become an All Star and has grown in his ability to orchestrate an offense. He’s gone from a score-first guard to a point guard who averaged 7.4 assists two years ago and a respectable 6.4 assists last year. DeMarre Carroll is the team’s best perimeter defender, with his 6’8 size able to hang with the best small forwards, while his speed and agility allows him to challenge smaller guards and get in the way of their passing lanes. He’ll be looking to stay healthy after only playing in 26 games last year. Jonas Valanciunas possesses great footwork and vision in the post but like Carroll, will need to stay on the court. Terence Ross has grown throughout his career and last year, he shot 48% from the floor, including 39% from three. Toronto native Cory Joseph is an efficient point guard whose solid play keeps him in the Raptors’ rotation. The Raptors were fortunate to have the #9 pick in the NBA draft from the Andrea Bargnani trade and used it to select Jakob Poltl. Poltl has solid footwork and rebounding but like all rookies, will need to build his size and strength.
Toronto has been consistent over the last few years, and with the consistency comes growth. Their young core has developed well under Dwane Casey but are they ready to compete in the Finals? They don’t have that one superstar that can be relied upon, but their team chemistry propels them ahead of strong East sides. Lowry and DeRozan will need to be consistent, especially in playoff time, but their biggest gap is a strong frontcourt player who can dominate guys like Al Horford and Dwight Howard who are in new teams this season. The gap between them and the Celtics is closing but they’re still good enough to take the #2 seed in the East.
Prediction: 1st in Atlantic Division