With training camps just around the corner, it is time again for writers from all over SB Nation to provide previews of their favorite teams. This week we have seen the Celtics, Nets, Knicks and 76ers seasons all previewed, and now Raptors HQ will close out this week of Atlantic Division previews by providing our take on the 2012-2013 Toronto Raptors.
Team Name: Toronto Raptors
Last Year's Record: 23-43
Key Losses: Jerryd Bayless, James Johnson, Gary Forbes
Key Additions: Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross.
1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
This past off-season was a bit of a roller coaster ride for the Raptors. Initially there was a great deal of talk about the team potentially shopping their number 8 overall pick with one of their main targets being then Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry. This was however, before we learned that the team was in fact going all in for a bid to acquire Steve Nash.
As a part of this all out blitz for Nash's services, management extended a back-loaded qualifying offer to Landry Fields in an effort to pry him away from the Knicks, thus giving them one less option to use in a potential sign-and-trade for the former MVP. In the end, Nash chose the Lakers and the Raps were left with Landry Fields at a salary which might be just a tad high given what he brings to the table.
In the aftermath of Nash's choice to sign with the Lakers, Bryan Colangelo wasted no time in pulling the trigger on a deal that landed the team their new starting point guard Kyle Lowry, in exchange for a protected first round pick. As far as plan B's go, the Raptors could have done a great deal worse than Kyle Lowry.
The other most hyped move the team made was signing last year's fifth overall pick Jonas Valanciunas, ensuring that he will make his long-awaited NBA debut this season.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
As crazy as this would have been to say a season ago, the team's biggest strength is probably their defense. They were in the top 14 in the league in defensive efficiency last season and have added a few players this off-season that should help to maintain, or even upgrade that position this upcoming season.
Depth is another strength that this year's incarnation of the Raptors possess. With Kyle Lowry now the starter at the point guard spot, that leaves Jose Calderon to lead the second unit, which on paper, makes them one of the better second units in the NBA.
The Raptors also added some extra depth on the wing with presumably Alan Anderson--who was solid at the tail-end of last season--and rookie Terrence Ross both bringing shooting and perimeter defense off of the pine. Down low is another spot where the Raps are deep. They have a solid five, or even six-man rotation at the forward/center spot with some combination of Bargnani and either Amir Johnson or Aaron Gray starting, leaving Valanciunas, Ed Davis and Quincy Acy to battle for the remaining minutes.
3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Although the Raptors have added a few players like Ross and Lowry that can shoot the ball from range, shooting will likely still be this team's biggest weakness during the upcoming season. Last year the Raptors were 23rd in the league in field goal percentage at 44% and were 19th in the league in three-point shooting at 34%. They will need a drastic improvement in order to gain respectability in those categories.
Inexperience is also going to be something that the team will struggle with this season. A number of the team's key rotation players--Ross, Valanciunas, Anderson and even Fields--have played three years or less in the league. For rookies Ross, Valanciunas and Acy, there is going to be a definitive learning curve for them as they look to make the adjustment to the pro game. In short, this team is going to take it's lumps early on in the season, it is how the youngsters respond to those lumps that will make or break their season.
4. What are the goals for this team?
The main goal for the team this season--and this is the first time in a while that we have been able to say this--is to make the playoffs. This is a team that has the talent to make a playoff push. And although a spot in the playoffs certainly isn't guaranteed, it is a potentially attainable goal for the Dinos to be playing into late April.
Another important aspect of this season to watch will be how well the new players fit in, as well as how the rookies progress. Dwane Casey has his work cut out for him when it comes to integrating new players into the team's systems as well as bringing along younger less experienced players like Valanciunas and Ross who will both be a big part of the team's future.
I would say that if the Raptors compete for that final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and the youngsters on the squad show some progress over the course of the season, then one would have to declare the season a success.
5. What impact will Jonas Valanciunas have in his first NBA season?
No matter how many times we hear the head coach or the GM encourage the fan to temper their expectations of Valanciunas, there will still be a great deal expected of last year's fifth overall pick. With all of the hype surrounding the seven-foot Lithuanian it is difficult not to be excited. After all, he is perhaps the first legitimate center that this team has had in the last decade, but as we saw in the Olympics, he has quite a ways to go before he fulfills his incredible potential.
It isn't likely that he is going to set the world on fire right away, but one would expect to see the big man make some progress over the course of the season and to show that he belongs in the league. If he fails to do that, and instead struggles mightily, things could get ugly quick in Raptorland.