With the Toronto Raptors kicking off their 2012-13 NBA campaign on Wednesday, the HQ team gets together to preview the season, and make a few predictions...
1. What will the Raptors' final record be?
Chris Walder: 39-43. 15 of Toronto's first 22 games will be on the road. The early portion of the schedule will say a lot about this year's team and where they're headed.
Scott Campsall: 39-43.
Adam Francis: 38-44.
Kinnon Yee: 43-39.
Sasha Kalra: 36 - 46. The Toronto Raptors have a tough early schedule and will be tested from the get-go. The new signings seem to have settled in pretty well and that chemistry will be crucial to ensure that they don't dig themselves too big of a hole to climb out of.
D-Stance: Well, the Raptors finished with a 23-43 record last season and would have delivered about 29 wins in a full, 82-game season. Another year of Dwane Casey's leadership and an influx of talent in the forms of Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, and Terrence Ross should be enough to push this team into 30-39 win territory. So a record of 33-49 sounds about right with room to pick up an additional 5-6 wins over the course of the season.
2. Will that be enough to make the playoffs?
CW: Unfortunately no. The Eastern Conference from top to bottom will be a lot more competitive than some may realize. It's going to be difficult.
SC: not quite. The Raps will miss the playoffs by a few games. But, things will be interesting for the majority of the season and they will be the most competitive Raptor team we have seen since Chris Bosh left.
AF: I think they'll be on the outside looking in, but just barely. I just don't think the club's offense is going to be strong enough to get them into the dance.
KY: Just barely. And people won't know how they got there.
SK: That will not be enough to make the playoffs. Being 10 games under .500 in this years Eastern Conference will not be enough for an 8 seed.
DS: I think a .500 record and playoff spot still prove elusive to this club. But there's certainly enough question marks in the Eastern Conference to keep the possibility of the playoffs open.
3. What place will they finish?
SC: 9th place. That would put them 2, maybe 3 games out of the 8th and final playoffs spot.
AF: I'm going with ninth. And I think barring injuries, they fight it out to the very end for that eighth spot, and just fall short.
KY: 8th and it'll be down to the final games of the season
DS: Ninth place.
4. Who makes the East playoffs?
SC: Miami, Indiana, Boston, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia
AF: Miami, Boston, Indiana, Brooklyn, Philly, Chicago, Atlanta, New York
KY: Besides the obvious top options like Miami and Boston, I think Jersey, New York and Philly will be fighting with the Raptors for the final playoff spots.
SK: 1) Miami Heat 2) Boston Celtics 3) Indiana Pacers 4) Brooklyn Nets 5) Philadelphia 76ers 6) Atlanta Hawks 7) Chicago Bulls 8) New York Knicks
DS: 1. Miami 2. Indiana 3. Boston 4. Brooklyn 5. Chicago 6. Atlanta 7. New York 8. Philadelphia
5. Who will be the team's MVP? LVP?
CW: MVP? DeMar DeRozan. You've got to love a player on a contract year. Pride and a big fat pay cheque this offseason is on the line. We're going to see the best from DeRozan in 2013 as he takes that next step to being a bonafide leader for the Raptors and a household name around the NBA.
LVP? Landry Fields. With all due respect, it's going to be difficult for him to live up to his 3 year, $20 million dollar deal. I don't expect much of a significant impact on his part, but I would love to be proven wrong.
SC: The MVP of this team is going to be Kyle Lowry. Lowry is the guy that is going to have to set the tone offensively and defensively night in and night out. He is going to need to know when to take on the brunt of the scoring and when to defer to guys like Bargnani and DeRozan. The rhetoric thus far from the coaching staff has been that this team will only go as far is Bargnani will take them, but I think this team will only go as far as Lowry will take them.
Linas Kleiza may very well end up being the least valuable player on the squad this season. He was basically buried at the end of the bench during the preseason, with the exception of their final game. Based on what we saw in the olympics, he still has the potential to be a solid rotation player for this team, yet I don't think he is going to get the minutes necessary to prove that with the Raptors this season.
AF: For MVP there's no question in my mind that it's going to be Kyle Lowry. As Scott noted, he's the guy who will set the tone and get after it at both ends, setting a much-needed example for the team on the floor. He's also one of the lone shot creators on this team, so I expect to see a lot of big moments involving him at crunch time this season.
LVP? This is a tough one for me. In terms of value to the team, I think it will be Linas Kleiza, who just won't get the minutes to justify his contract but in terms of production considering not only pay, but usage? Unfortunately, I'm going Bargs. For him to be a plus in my books, he need to consistently score at an efficient rate and I just don't see it happening.
KY: MVP - DeMar and Lowry for me, if they stay healthy. LVP - Linas Kleiza is quickly dropping into this category already.
SK: MVP - Kyle Lowry: The Raptors may have failed to land their top target Steve Nash but the backup plan was arguably the better deal for the franchise all along. Lowry has stepped into his role as starting point guard pretty well and his defensive acumen will be of great help what Dwayne Casey is trying to establish. Jose Calderon has dealt with this before and this increased competition will ensure that Lowry stays on his toes.
LVP - Landry Fields: It was always going to be difficult for Landry Fields to live up to his price tag. Then again the team seems to like him so maybe he's here to keep spirits up amongst the troops?
DS: After being cast aside by the Houston Rockets, Kyle Lowry is going to play with a massive chip on his shoulder. He'll put up borderline All-Star numbers while providing much-needed leadership and toughness. Lowry will be the team's Most Valuable Player.
Linas Kleiza seems like a lock for Least Valuable Player. An overpaid, inefficient, defensively-challenged tweener caught in a logjam at the 3/4 positions. This is not going to end well. But hey, at least he can translate for Jonas!
6. Will the team move into the league's top 10 in D?
CW: No. Defense is certainly a priority with coach Dwayne Casey, but it won't be good enough to crack the top 10 this season. That doesn't mean it will be terrible though. Anything in the top half of the league will certainly be welcome.
SC: If the team's performance in the preseason is any indication, then the answer is no. But, as we have been told time and time again, we should take things that happen in the preseason with a grain of salt. Having said that, I don't see this team making it into the top 10 in the league in defence--i think it is going to be close, however if the Raptors continue to play at an accelerated pace offensively it is going to have a negative effect on their defensive numbers.
AF: I don't think so for two reasons: 1) They continue to give heavy minutes to two sub-par defenders in DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani. 2) The increased focus on getting this team going offensively, I think will cause some hiccups on D.
KY: I don't think this team has anyone who will be able to do so. It's a team effort, and there just aren't enough elite defenders playing major minutes.
SK: Lowry and Jonas will help but the Raps still have DeRozan and Bargnani in the starting lineup. I'd be very surprised if this team moved into the top 10 in D.
DS: The team certainly improved defensively at the starting point guard position by replacing the pylon known as Jose Calderon with Mr. Lowry. However, 40 per cent of the team's starting lineup is still being filled by Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan. Are those guys serving as pillars of a top-10 defense? I don't think so.
7. Who/what will be the biggest surprise with the club?
CW: Terrence Ross. With all of the hype behind Valanciunas, it's almost easy to forget that we drafted a guy this summer as well. Terrence is going to shock a lot of fans with how prolific a scorer he can be for this team. Expectations are low but his potential is sky-high.
SC: Jonas Valanciunas has already been the biggest and best surprise for the team thus far and I fully expect that to continue on through the regular season. Despite all of the hype built around the seven-footer, there was a great deal of talk about tempering those expectations. Yet, JV has already made that utterly impossible by--seemingly--winning the starting centre spot and holding his own through 7 preseason games. The youngster hasn't shown any signs of slowing down and his rookie season should provide some hope for not only his future, but the future of the organization as well.
AF: I'm not sure how much of a surprise he'll be now that fans have seen him play in pre-season, but John Lucas III would be my pick. Not just because he's the most interesting man in the NBA, although that helps, but because he'll given this team a true scorer and facilitator off the pine, a sort of reigned-in TJ Ford.
KY: Alan Anderson. I get the feeling that Ross is going to hit that Rookie Wall, and Valanciunas is expected to be good in my books.
SK: Terrence Ross is going to surprise many people this season. He wasn't the sexiest pick at the time and he still has fans who hold that against him. Jonas Valanciunas is dominating the headlines and Ross is quietly going about his business. His jumper is not only accurate, it's quick, and this is something that many kids don't have coming out of college.
DS: Amir Johnson was already a very productive player in limited minutes. If his jumper proves as advertised, Johnson will soak up the majority of the backup minutes at centre and power forward while punching Ed Davis' ticket out of town.