Similar to last season, the Raptors should be on course to win 45-50 games this year, and with a lackluster Atlantic Conference comprised of the Knicks, Celtics, and 76ers; such a prediction is certainly not out of the question. This team is young and hungry– not to mention they have a loyal fan-base who believes no goal is unattainable for their home team. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri pieced together a solid roster last season after offloading Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings– a move that surprised many but worked in the favor of the team.
During the first round of the 2013-14 NBA playoffs, the Raptors proved to be highly a competitive and difficult adversary versus the Brooklyn Nets, as they stretched the series to a decisive game seven finale where they suffered a heartbreaking elimination.
Personally, there were several lessons learned from the Raptors-Nets playoff series, with the obvious lesson being a lack of playoff experience among-st the Raptor roster, but another clear message was sent throughout the Eastern Conference — the Raptors are as tough as nails and any opposing team should cringe at the though of a postseason match-up. I’m sure the Brooklyn Nets would agree that the Toronto Raptors are a resilient team that will scrap and claw all 48 minutes, giving you hell to the bitter sweet end.
This season, the Raptors are poised to improve on their past success, but will they accept the challenge of transcending from a good to a great team?
- KEY ADDITIONS: Louis William (G)
- KEY LOSSES: John Salmons (F)
- Kyle Lowry (G), Terrence Ross (SG), DeMar DeRozan (SF), Amir Johnson (PF), Jonas Valanciunas (C)
- Rank #4: Projected Win Loss Record 50-32
DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas
The Toronto Raptors have broken the spell of lackluster seasons and have emerged as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. DeMar DeRozan has returned to the team with FIBA World Cup experience where he averaged 12 minutes per game and offered some generous contributions off the bench. From FIBA, DeRozan also brings with him a gold medal, therefore I expect his international success to translate into momentum which will energize he and his teammates, as they look to clinch the Atlantic Division Title for the second consecutive season.
The international stud Jonas Valanciunas returns to the team after what I would consider a successful run during the FIBA World Cup in which he led team Lithuania in scoring with 14.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Lithuania finished 4th overall among all teams, with Valanciunas being one of the highlights on the roster.
With their productive and extended basketball season this past summer, DeRozan and Valanciunas should be en-route to leading this team to a successful regular season, toppling their franchise record of 48 wins. The starting five for the Raptors are just as good as any team in the East, and the bench has improved with the addition of Louis Williams— a player I expect to lead the second unit. The Raptors seem to have brought a continued feeling of excitement which hasn’t been prevalent in Toronto for some time.
The Raptors remain one of the youngest teams in the league, and as we all know, age and experience is what ultimately carries a team deep into the playoffs. I think the Raptors are 1-2 seasons away from making a significant run at the Eastern Conference title. This is a good team with the potential of being a great team in the next few years. Kyle Lowry is a solid point guard but don’t be pissed when I say he doesn’t make my list of the top-10 guards in the NBA. DeRozan and Valanciunas are primed to become two of the top players in the league at their position, and I think the future of this team becoming “great” will be determined by them.
The realest in me believes the Raptors will advance beyond the first round, while the optimist in me predicts even further success (next season). Overall, playoff expectations are lofty and the organizations primary goal is to clinch the division title.
The Raptors match-up well versus 95 percent of the teams in the league, they have the perfect balance of size and speed, allowing them the opportunity to win on any given night.
Despite cloudy postseason expectations, the possibility of becoming extinct should haunt any opposing team who faces the Raptors during the 2014-15 NBA Playoffs.