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Raptors Lose Lottery-Bowl to Wizards but Continue to Show Improvement

DeRozan's free-throw line dominance of late is something Raptors fans should be excited about.
DeRozan's free-throw line dominance of late is something Raptors fans should be excited about.

The Toronto Raptors beat the Washington Wizards last night in a battle for lottery supremacy and although the Raps won, or lost depending on your take, the HQ sees a silver lining in the midst of it all.

I think the Raptors are in a better rebuilding position than a lot of teams because they already have everything in place to become a regular playoff contender except for all-star calibre player(s). They have very good role players, a good coach, veteran leadership, good defence/offence balance and their core is young, but they desperately need a couple of all-star calibre players to finish this rebuild. Without that kind of talent to take this team over the hump, we’re gonna be stuck right here.

That was one of the comments from a reader regarding yesterday's game-day preview between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards.

If you watched this masterpiece of a match, one that the Raptors barely eked-out with a 99 to 92 win, you may not have agreed with said comment. It was quite easy to watch DeMar DeRozan's 4 of 11 shooting performance, or Andrea Bargnani's inability to take over the game and think "wow this team is bad."

And yes, at face value, even with the win, 18 wins and 35 losses is indeed, quite bad.

But of late, I find myself reaching a similar conclusion to what our reader noted.

There are indeed some pieces here, some pieces that coach Dwane Casey has gotten to play at another level, and I'm finding it hard not to think that with the addition of some more top talent, especially if Jonas Valanciunas has the impact many believe he will, this club could very well make a nice jump next season.

Because let's take it back to the start of the season. Didn't we say this year was all about losses, but development from key players and from the club overall? Andrea Bargnani's 13 game mirage stint still looks suspect at this point, but the majority of other players have stepped forward in some way; Jerryd Bayless pre-injury showed at least off-the-bench potential as a second-unit scorer, Linas Kleiza re-discovered his swagger, and James Johnson looks like a legitimate NBA player at last.

Even DeMar DeRozan, who I've been maybe most hard on this season, has stepped things up of late. He's still not even a good shooter, but he's been compensating for that by doing a better job drawing contact, and has gotten to the free-throw line a ton of late, something that at the very least bodes well in terms of being a legit bench option.

DeMar coming off the bench?

Why not?

That's one thing that I think needs to be thrown out there before this season ends.

Not DeMar specifically but that regardless of perhaps surpassing expectations, this club still has a ways to go and needs to do a lot of tinkering before it can take that proverbial "next step." Part of the process may as well involve shifting the piece around, be it trading duplicate assets (think Amir and Ed) or using players in more efficient ways. It's tough to continue to start DeMar at shooting guard when he's throwing up bricks and barely making the rim from long range.

But perhaps as the three-man next to say a Bradley Beal, or some veteran free agent? Or maybe as a sixth man option? I desperately want to see this club start putting up some wins (and not of last night's variety) and I'm hoping that Bryan Colangelo and co., this time around, don't let things like "draft status" get in the way of personnel and roster decisions.

We saw that movie before with Andrea Bargnani and looking at last night's opponent, the Washington Wizards, you can see what type of damage constantly hoping "potential" pans out can do. Gone is Javale McGee and Nick Young and Andray Blatche, another "high upside" guy didn't even see the court. In fact the Wiz last night for all their lack of talent, looked a lot closer to being an NBA team to me, and I'm hoping we can say something similar about the Toronto Raptors next season.

Similar as in "looking a lot closer to being a playoff team."

Now if they could just grab a few more ping pong balls along the way...