NBA Free Agency 2014: Toronto Raptors Off-Season Player Assessments

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA Draft behind us (welcome Bruno Caboclo and DeAndre Daniels!), the gears of the free agency machine are beginning to turn. The smiles on all of the young draftees' faces are nice, but now it's time to get down to business. It's time to assess the Toronto Raptors roster for real. Sticking with the typical binary of draft analysis, let's take a look at the strengths of each player and determine just what, if anything, they need to improve to stay on the team (and in the league).

Landry Fields

Position: F

Strengths: Fields, from all accounts, is a pleasant locker room presence. He'll also attempt to fill whatever role he's placed in, which includes everything from starter to afterthought. Fields provides adequate defense on the wing, and has proven to be a uniquely unselfish player.

Needs Improvement: One can't help but note however that Fields' pass-first mentality stems from the notion that he is not a fan of actually shooting the basketball. Once thought to be an able rebounder and potential 3-point specialist, Fields should now just focus on being able to confidently take a jump shot from somewhere - anywhere - on the court.

Nando De Colo

Position: G

Strengths: De Colo is a mobile, able passer who provides height at the point guard position. The NBA champion San Antonio Spurs saw enough in De Colo to keep him around for a season and a bit. So, um, that's something.

Needs Improvement: That said, when the Spurs trade you to a lesser team for a player who has done almost nothing his entire NBA career (Austin Daye), something has gone awry. Or the TL;DR version: must improve jump shot.

Kyle Lowry

Position: G

Strengths: Lowry inspires a lot of superlatives having just played probably the finest season at point guard in Raptors history. He can shoot from anywhere, is totally fearless, a tireless competitor, a bulldog defender, a skilled passer, and usually a maker of sound decisions.

Needs Improvement: Lowry is a free agent, so he needs to improve his ability to re-sign with the Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan

Position: G-F

Strengths: DeRozan is coming off his first All-Star season during which all of his key statistics (points, rebounds, assists, 3PT%) increased. Most notably, DeRozan is now in the elite class of free throw generating machines, easily the most consistent part of his game.

Needs Improvement: Oh, but that consistency! On the surface, with the All-Star appearance and improved numbers, it looks as though DeRozan is achieving. However, for him to get to the real upper echelon (All-NBA and/or deeper in the playoffs) he'll need to up his efficiency numbers and prove night-in and night-out that he can lead the Raptors to victory.

Dwight Buycks

Position: G

Strengths: Seems like a nice guy. Apparently has a special Marquette-based bond with Steve Novak, which is nice.

Needs Improvement: Keep on plugging away, young man.

Amir Johnson

Position: F-C

Strengths: Johnson has to now be considered one of the best "glue" guys in the NBA. He'll put his body on the line, set great screens, provide stellar help defense and always back up a teammate regardless of the situation. Moreover, his offensive skills have improved in leaps and bounds as his role on the team has grown from useful backup to essential interior presence.

Needs Improvement: Johnson's tantalizing three pointer experiment either has to become a more full time affair or should be put to rest. While he is undeniably great around the basket, Johnson is still not much of a shooter from range. His desire to add more facets to his game is admirable, but it's high time to either nail the 3-point shooting down as an option or double up on the aforementioned strengths.

Steve Novak

Position: F

Strengths: Novak is a set shooting three point specialist at a time when three point shooting has become incredibly valuable. At this point, his mere presence on the court warrants a shift in the opposing team's entire defensive alignment.

Needs Improvement: While Novak's shooting threat is real (he's a consistent over 40 percent shooter from 3), his inability to do almost anything else on the court is a bit of a liability. There's still a lot of other offensive manoeuvres to attempt out there, and, you know, an entire other end to the court.

Jonas Valanciunas

Position: C

Strengths: In many ways Valanciunas is the brightest star in the Raptors' future constellation. He's still very young and has the potential to be a monster on the glass, a powerful shot blocker, a skilled post scorer and a competent shooter from range. He moves well, is committed to the pick-and-roll offense, and works as hard as he can on defense.

Needs Improvement: In many other ways, however, it feels like Valanciunas' energy is going off in all sorts of random supernova directions. He'll roll to the net and make all kinds of faces indicating he is open when, in truth, he is not. He'll hustle hard for a rebound and then find himself out a position. He'll straight up just get fooled by savvier players. The next explosion in Jonas' development will have to come in the basketball IQ quadrant if he's looking to avoid a career of frustration.

Greivis Vasquez

Position: G

Strengths: Vasquez has developed a reputation for showing very little fear in the face of extreme pressure. He can handle the ball in a tight spot, take the big shot, or make the smart play off-the-ball to be a good teammate. He's settled nicely into a role as a backup point guard or off-guard in smaller lineups. Ultimately, Vasquez provides the team with a lot of lineup flexibility.

Needs Improvement: Despite the positive reputation though, Vasquez is also acknowledged league-wide as a mediocre defender at best, with only a size advantage to make up for his lack of quickness. While that weakness is inherent at this point, it would be nice if Vasquez could pick his spots a bit more wisely and limit his forays into the realm of hero ball.

John Salmons

Position: G

Strengths: Once upon a time Salmons was a viable scoring option in the NBA (this was back when the Raptors almost signed him during the mid-00s lost era). But, years have passed and all that's left now is for Salmons to settle into his savvy old man period. As it stands, he provides a steady hand off the bench, decent decision making skills, and a slightly stronger than average wing presence on defense.

Needs Improvement: How we doing on building a time machine? Sorry Salmons, not much room left for improvement. This may be the end of the road.

Terrence Ross

Position: G

Strengths: Ross is ready to become a premier wing defender in the NBA. He's got the reach, the foot speed and the jumping ability to guard most wings in the league. Toss in a potential lethal shooting ability and highlight reel dunking skills and you've got yourself a gem of a player.

Needs Improvement: Ross is a gem, no doubt, but at times it feels as though he needs to be reminded of that. Confidence is key for any player, young or otherwise. The important thing with Ross and his panoply of skills will be to encourage him to properly and bravely assert his talents as often as possible.

Chuck Hayes

Position: F

Strengths: Blessed with a centre of gravity that would make a block of lead proud, Hayes is an immovable object in the post. He can't block shots, he isn't super mobile, but he knows how to position himself to keep elite post scorers from getting past him.

Needs Improvement: I mean, just take a look at him. Does Hayes strike you as a particularly multi-dimensional basketball player? Hayes will always do one thing really well. Everything else? File it under "hopeless case."

Tyler Hansbrough

Position: F

Strengths: The spiritual Hayes successor. Hansbrough has literally no shame and is not afraid to mix it up with anyone on the court (except Metta World Peace). He'll throw himself through walls, the floor, the fans, the opposing team, etc. to make potent basketball plays.

Needs Improvement: His ability to make potent basketball plays.

Patrick Patterson

Position: F

Strengths: Patterson is a wide-bodied forward who can play both on the perimeter and in the post. Given the explosion of deep shooting power forwards in the NBA, he is a must have. On top of that, Patterson is a great chemistry guy and a solid defensive player.

Needs Improvement: Maybe conditioning? Patterson has done everything asked of him so far in his career. If anything, the Raptors could use more of him.

Julyan Stone

Position: G

Strengths: Has a great basketball name.

Needs Improvement: Does not have a particularly great basketball game.

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And there you have it. While some of these names will inevitably not be on the Raptors roster come opening night, it feels only fair that these players know where they stand. Now if we could just figure out the deal with this Bruno kid...

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