As I've been going through the preseason games on League Pass and taking a look at the other teams so far in the East, I'm liking how the Raptors may be able to squeak in some early wins. It certainly seems like this Raptors team is starting to figure itself out a bit, and we have some answers to some questions.
I know now that Kyle Lowry is as advertised and is definitely a point guard that I feel comfortable with the starting five. He'll push the tempo and definitely try to keep the starters group from hitting the malaise it hit at times last year.
I now know that DeMar DeRozan has finally figured it out that he needs to attack the paint consistently, draw fouls, and to make this area his new comfort zone. In other words, be controlled and aggressive.
However, the preseason has also shown me that the Raptors are only going to go as far as Terrence Ross can improve and make an impact on this team.
Yes, I realize that this is a pretty strong statement to make at such an early juncture. But hear me out.
While I'm comfortable with DeMar DeRozan as our starting shooting guard, Landry Fields has had a very uneven preseason so far. He has struggled to show scoring consistency in the preseason from anything that wasn't a fast break or a hard cut to the basket. Seeing this so far has led to concerns about his overall shooting touch, both from the free throw line but especially beyond the arc. With DeRozan already in the paint most sets, having Fields near the basket has left the paint crowded at times.
As a result, the spacing from the starting unit has not exactly been ideal.
In the second unit, without Ross in the lineup the past few days, we've seen Dwane Casey go with John Lucas III as DeRozan's backup with Alan Anderson substituting for Landry Fields. While this lineup has given Casey some more offensive aggression, we've also seen some teams exploit John Lucas' size as a two guard.
Which brings us to the overall construction of this roster. The Raptors have decided that in the off season they would try and help out their guard situation through both the draft of Terrence Ross and the acquisition of Landry Fields. They definitely improved their point guard situation, and with Jonas Valanciunas coming over, have continued to improve what was already a very strong front court.
However, I know I've had my doubts about whether this group could come together and figure out their Shooting Guard/Small Forward situation. Which leads to why Ross' development is so important and instrumental to the Raptors' own development this year.
Ross has already shown the ability to guard some quicker players having gone against AC Milan's guards and with his length and reach, should be able to guard taller SG and SF. We've also seen that his shooting, as reported, is quite smooth. Having the ability to kick out the ball from the paint to someone who can shoot it from the perimeter is already helping the Raptors. Just look at what Alan Anderson has done so far with the second unit.
However, having both Anderson and Ross in the second unit makes little sense to me as well. You now have two perimeter shooters where the starting lineup has only slashers and strength guards.
Ultimately, while it may not happen until the later half of this year, I'd really like to see the Raptors move towards a rotation where DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross are able to play together. With Ross able to hit the outside jumper, it perfect compliments DeRozan's style. On the flip side, having Fields be the cutter who can kick it out to Alan Anderson makes the most sense to me.
It's why I can't wait for Terrence Ross to get back on the court and why I'll be looking at Ross' development very closely throughout the year.