“Started From the Bottom”: 2014-15 Toronto Raptors Season Preview

If all goes right, another Northern Uprising is at hand. (David Copper/Toronto Star)
If all goes right, another Northern Uprising is at hand. (David Copper/Toronto Star)

Last season: 48-34, Won Atlantic Division (3rd Eastern Conference), Lost to Brooklyn, 4-3, in Quarterfinals

Notable Acquistions: G Lou Williams (free agent, ATL), F James Johnson (free agent, MEM), C Lucas Nogueira (2013 draft pick)

Draft Picks: F Bruno Caboclo (Brazil, 20th overall), F DeAndre Daniels (UConn, 37th overall)

Notable Losses: G/F John Salmons (NOP), F Steve Novak (UTA)

Kyle Lowry-DeRozan

Burning Question: Is Toronto’s long-term potential limited?

Some people feel re-signing Lowry to a 4 year/$48 million deal locked Toronto into a period of short-term growth with a low ceiling for the future. But if the Raps’ young talent continues to develop, making the jump from playoff team to contender is a possibility.

Storyline: 

Outside of the Phoenix Suns, the Toronto Raptors’ resurgence was a major storyline in 2013-14. Once Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento back in December, everything seemed to go perfectly. Coincidence? No way.

After Gay and his chucking antics (went 11-37 in November loss to Houston) were dealt to the offensively challenged Kings, the flood gates opened up for Toronto’s young talent. DeMar DeRozan capitalized on his newfound versatility and ascended into star status.

He was mesmerizing at times and was devastating on the break with former slam dunk champ Terrence Ross on the other wing.

But perhaps the biggest recipient of the Rudy Gay trade was Kyle Lowry. Though DeRozan is clearly the most talented Raptor, Lowry became the team’s unquestioned leader and they followed his tough, heady play to thier first Division title since 2007.

With better ball movement and more opportunites for guys like Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas, Lowry was able to get everyone involved in the second half of the year. Toronto went 42-22 following the trade and had some very memorable moments throughout the year:

Ross’s 51 point explosion

DeRozan’s first All-Star berth

GM Masai Ujiri’s F*** Brooklyn! before Game 1 at the Air Canada Centre

For the first time in many years, Toronto has two main draws: they are a young team on the rise and are a cool team in a cool city. Believe it or not, the “cool” factor is important in drawing big time free agents in the future.

With the Raptors’ global ambassador, Drake, a vibrant metropolitan city, and young talent like Lowry, DeRozan, Ross and Valanciunas, the Raptors are officially a team on the rise.

But that’s the new challenge for 2014-15: avoiding complacency. Making that next jump from surprising team to a contender is one of the toughest tasks in all of sports. It is possible if a few, or all, of these things happen:

  • Jonas Valanciunas experiences a spike in production- Valanciunas has all of the tools to be one of the top centers in the NBA one day. His work ethic is not the question (added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason), he needs to play with way more aggression and toughness on the block.
  • Ross finds an identity- Don’t mistake anything, the former dunk champ still puts people on posters. Heading into year 3, however, Ross has to diversify his game to take pressure off of Lowry and DeRozan. A dedication to the defensive end is a nice place to start.
  • Consistent bench production- A core of Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, James Johnson and Patrick Patterson is decent on paper. The only problem is, the lineup is a dynamic offensive group who will have difficulty stopping opponents (besides Johnson). If Vasquez plays anything close to last year’s level (avg. 9.6 points and 4.1 assists in just 22 minutes), the second unit should run smoothly.

Coach Dwane Casey will face his toughest test yet with a young team dealing with high expectations. The Raptors are no longer the darlings of the league. They now have a bullseye on their backs and are playing in a much tougher conference this year.

But if Lowry and DeRozan continue to play at All-Star levels, Ross makes improvements in all areas, and Valanciunas develops a mean streak, another division title is easily within reach.

Projected Starting 5:

Drake Raptors

Drake-isms: Hmm, how would Drake’s lyrics describe his Raptors this year?

“I just been plottin’ on the low, schemin’ on the low”– Watch out East, Toronto’s been shafted by both its own players (Carter, Vince; McGrady, Tracy; Bosh, Chris) and opponents for years. Now, it’s payback time. You could even call it comeback season.

“Hardly home but always reppin'”– On the road, Toronto is still a tough team to beat. The Raps were tied for first in the East in road wins (22) this past year.

“Jealousy in the air tonight, I could tell. I will never understand that, but oh well.”– Let’s just say New York & Brooklyn aren’t big fans of the Raptors. The upstart group halted the Knicks’ division supremacy and Brooklyn is still reeling about the “Raptors v. Dinosaurs” controversy in last year’s playoffs.

“I got my eyes on you. You’re everything that I see.”– Ahh, the Larry O’Brien trophy…Yeah, Toronto is thinking big this year. Who knows, if Cleveland struggles to gel from day one, Chicago succumbs to injuries or inconsistency, and Washington can’t recapture last year’s magic, the Raps could win the East.

Man of Mystery:

Bruno Caboclo

F Bruno Caboclo: There was a collective cry of “who??” when Toronto selected Caboclo with their first-round selection last June. The “Brazilian Kevin Durant” is 18 years old and has an extremely high ceiling in the pros. But in case you haven’t heard, he’s “two years away, from being two years away.”

The long-armed, athletic Caboclo is often compared to Durant (unfairly) and Portland’s Nicolas Batum. But while he won’t see much action this season, Caboclo’s progression is worth monitoring.

Best Case: Progress, progress, progress. If the Raptors see development out of young players like Valanciunas and Ross, winning a playoff series is a strong possibility.

Worst Case: Toronto succumbs to their newfound success, takes a step back in the division, and goes out without a whisper in the first round.

Season Prediction: 

1st, Atlantic Division (3rd Eastern Conference), Second-Round Exit

“Started from the bottom now we here.”- Drake

#DOFGAME #DOG

-Jabari J.

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