The 2017-18 Toronto Raptors season gets underway tonight, so we brought together six of our staff members to answer six big questions about the season.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Some of these responses were collected before the season-ending injury to the Celtics’ Gordon Hayward.]
Harsh: Win a round, cross the 50 win plateau, show some semblance of growth. Honestly, the team result for the Raptors shouldn’t be all that surprising this year. We know what they are. Success for me is unproven individual parts on this team showing they can keep this train chugging along.
Mitch: Look at HQ, starting things off with the most difficult question. As a firm believer that "championship or bust" is an extremely foolish idea, the Raps running out a competitive team that holds their spot in the upper echelon of the conference and the league as a whole is enough for me. Add in a playoff run to the second round or higher once again, along with the prospects taking a next step on the second unit, and I will be very satisfied.
Daniel: Having home court at the end of the season, and winning at least a round, and two if not matched up with LeBron early.
Matt: If the Raptors can run through their first round opponent and show a valiant seven game effort against the Cavs in round two or three, I think fans should be happy. For DeMar and Lowry to dominate in the post-season for once would be a treat.
James: A second round exit would not be a failure, but a success would be an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. While recognizing that we as a fanbase have been spoiled for the past few years with guaranteed playoff berth, the burden that comes with that level of success is the expectation of improvement. We went from first round exits, to conference finals, to being bounced in the conference semis. This team needs to be better than Boston and Washington, and be one of the last two teams standing in the East in order to look back on the 2017-18 season as a success.
Adam: If Bebe goes an entire season without a haircut, this year would go down as a success in my books.
Harsh: Norman Powell. We know what to expect from most of the key guys on this team, but Powell was given a contract that extends beyond the tenure of Lowry, Ibaka and DeRozan. They’ve rewarded his work and promise, now it’s time for him to show he’s the piece that helps them transition from the present era to the future.
Mitch: I'm sure most will go with Valanciunas for obvious reasons, so I'll take a different road with Serge Ibaka. Although he's not the prime Ibaka of OKC, we saw flashes throughout the end of last season and into the first round of the playoffs. Here's to hoping he can recapture some of that defensive anchor abilities to be a force in the lane, as well as keep a consistent three point stroke which would look oh-so-sweet in a Lowry pick and pop.
Daniel: JV probably has the most on the line. I think they pay the tax next year, but if they choose not to and have to shed salary, he's candidate #1 to be shed unless he proves himself indispensable this year.
Matt: I am going with Jonas Valanciunas. Although the big man has proven that he can be a threat for a double-double on any given night, JV hasn't really taken any significant strides over the past few seasons and with the game quickly changing, he will need to adjust to avoid being relegated to the bench. JV obviously serves a valuable purpose for the Raptors, as the dude is a monster under the hoop. However, in clutch situations, it's tough to fit the big Lithuanian into the lineup do to his lack of mobility and perimeter play and it's up to JV to make the required adjustments to take that next step.
James: The obvious choice is Jonas Valanciunas, but I’m going with DeMar DeRozan. Despite being named to an All-NBA team, people sleep on DeMar (have you seen where ESPN and Sports Illustrated have him ranked?) Why? It’s because for the past 2 years, we’ve been getting stellar regular season performances followed by playoff disappearances. For this team to reach its goals, and for DeMar to quiet his doubters, he needs to produce when it counts.
Adam: Certainly Bruno Caboclo has the most to prove. This season will either see him evolve into a legitimate NBA player, or be fazed out of the league. I hope for Toronto's sake, it's the former.
Harsh: OG Anunoby. OG fills a need that much of the roster can’t at the moment. Having a player who can switch seamlessly between the three and the four and play defence, while showing some ability in the half court will be a massive plus for the Raptors after PJ Tucker’s departure. OG wasn’t even supposed to be healthy just yet, but not only is he playing, he’s been reasonably productive too.
Mitch: OG Anunoby. The dude was an absolute force at Indiana and the physical, athletic wing defence should translate to the league right away. We've also seen some brilliant highlights of his passes in his extremely limited preseason run, but I think the tools are there for Anunoby to finally be the answer for the Raps at the three for a long time.
Daniel: If Powell counts as a young guy, he's the easy pick. Besides him, I'd go with Wright — he'll have the most opportunity to, at least.
Matt: I seriously think this will be a special year for Delon Wright. With Lowry openly agreeing to cut his minutes back slightly, Wright should get plenty of court time and I have no doubt that he will take advantage. At 6'5'' inches, Wright's combination of size, length and vision, makes him a unique threat at the point guard position and I can't wait to see what he will do with more responsibility and increased minutes this season.
James: Give me a Jakob Poeltl. As much buzz as OG Anunoby has created, I think Poeltl has a better shot, partly due to roster distribution, to be given a consistent role within the rotation this year. Poeltl is long, surprisingly quick, and displays a good touch around the basket. Don’t be surprised if he earns the distinction of being the first big man off of the bench.
Adam: Jakob Poeltl will shine the brightest. He may even steal JV's starting spot. I'm calling it.
Harsh: Jonas Valanciunas for cap relief. RIP JVHIVE.
Mitch: We know Masai Ujiri isn't exactly a fan of big moves in season, but for the sake of this question I would say Valanciunas is moved if his conditioning slips and the lapses on defence continue to no end — although the market for centres is as dead as can be, so the return might not exactly be what you think. More likely I see Lucas Nogueira being moved for next to nothing for a little bit of salary relief. <3 you Bebe.
Daniel: In season? Maybe a tiny deal to free up some flexibility, shedding Bruno or Bebe for a second round pick. I think they make no trades at all, though.
Matt: It's hard to say — the obvious answer is JV being shipped out but I think we found out in the off-season that the return isn't great. Depending on how close the Raptors see themselves to contending come the deadline, perhaps they package a couple of younger guys for another proven rotation piece. Maybe someone bites on Bruno!
James: I can’t really think of who the Raptors would target, but you’ve got to think any noteworthy trade would be centered around Valanciunas. Despite Masai’s wizardry, a tried and tested truth is (usually) you need to give up value to get value, and outside of DeRozan and Lowry, a player like Valanciunas is likely what would be necessary for a deal that would move the needle for Toronto.
Adam: I have to imagine Jonas Valanciunas is the most expendable of all the Raptors prominent players, with Poeltl and Nogueira looking to steal minutes, and Ibaka serving as the better small-ball option. The return? Hopefully someone who can shoot.
Harsh: Fred VanVleet becomes a key rotation piece. His shooting, stature and tenacity are very reminiscent of a young Kyle Lowry. He brings some much needed shooting and ball handling to a team that’s devoid of it. That Delon Wright - FVV duo might save the non Lowry/DeRozan units from tanking too.
Mitch: DeMar DeRozan makes 100 three pointers.
Daniel: I think my wins/seeding predictions below will be considered crazy. But besides those, I'll go with Valanciunas being used to close out most close fourth quarters.
Matt: DeMar DeRozan breaks Vince Carter’s single season scoring record (27.6) and becomes the third Raptor (Vince and Chris Bosh) to crack an All-NBA Second Team.
James: The Toronto Raptors will be better than the Boston Celtics, and finish in the top two in the East. The Raptors have the benefit of continuity for their core group, and that shouldn’t be understated. Fans always forget that being good on paper does not automatically translate to immediate wins on the court, and integrating the third perimeter starter will be much more seamless than integrating a brand new first and second option.
Adam: The Toronto Raptors emerge as one of the premier three point shooting teams. Even DeMar is connecting on over 35% of his attempts from deep.
Harsh: 52-30, second seed. The Celtics will lose some sting after that horrific Gordon Hayward injury, and the Raptors’ continuity alone props them up. They’re pretty much a lock for somewhere around 50 wins, provided no one gets a catastrophic injury.
Mitch: 51 wins. Third in the East. Conference Finals run. I'm not as high on the Celtics as most, and although I love gang sign John Wall and the Wizards, I think their lack of depth might nip them in the butt again. As long as the 3-6 matchup isn't Raptors-Hornets, you can take these predictions to the bank.
Daniel: 55 wins, first in the East (see? Crazy). The Raptors bench will remain strong with the presence of their all-stars being more important than the role players there, the starters will be way better with a real starting PF and quality SF, the competition in the East is far worse, and with the Cavaliers probably taking it easy and Boston not being nearly as good as predicted, the door is wide open for the Raptors.
Matt: I like the Raptors around 52 wins, so 52-30, good for the third seed in the East. I just think that despite some of the Raptors flaws, the East is about as bad as it's ever been, leaving the door wide open for another season of 50+ wins. Also a full year of Lowry, DeRozan, and Ibaka will be significant and should propel the Raptors to another excellent season.
James: The Raptors will finish with 54 wins, which will be good for second place in the Eastern Conference. I anticipate Toronto will get off to a strong start, which will ultimately end up being the buffer between them, the Boston Celtics, and the Washington Wizards. While the Cavs could also struggle out of the gate given their many new pieces, I’ve learned to never bet against Lebron. That said, it would also not shock me if Toronto managed to snag the one seed if Cleveland stumbles throughout the season, and opts similar to last season: to prioritize health for the playoffs over seeding.
Adam: 54-28. Second seed in the East behind Boston, who finishes a game up. Cleveland will be in cruise control by the season's halfway point. Lingering injuries to Isaiah Thomas also hurt their regular season. Kyrie Irving has a great year for Boston and leads them to the one seed. Toronto's continuity and youthful exuberance carry them to a terrific 54-28 record.