Small Ball 2016-17 Season Previews: Toronto Raptors

2015-2016 Record: 56-26

Key Additions: Jared Sullinger, Fred VanVleet

Key Departures: Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, James Johnson

Raptors fans must have such a sour taste in their mouths after losing the Eastern Conference Finals last year to LeBron’s Cavaliers 4-2. Even though getting out of the first round of the playoffs was a sigh of relief for the entire country of Canada, the Raptors had higher expectations than their lack-luster performance against Cleveland suggested. With a rematch against LeBron and Co. surely on their minds for the upcoming season, the Raptors have plenty of problems that need to be addressed if they hope to make even more noise in the Eastern Conference. Last year was a landmark season for their team, but their offseason left much to be desired. Besides resigning DeMar DeRozan to a 5 year, $146 million dollar deal, the only other notable signing they made was adding Jared Sullinger to a 1 year, $5.6 million dollar deal. But with the departure of Bismack Biyombo, who burst onto the scene during the 2016 Playoffs, and Luis Scola, Sullinger was added in hopes of plugging some of the holes that were left after those departures. The Raptors were able to add some promising pieces in the NBA Draft, like center Jakob Poeltl and forward Pascal Siakam, but will enter the 2016-2017 season with, generally speaking, the same roster that got smoked by Cleveland in June.

Returning Players: Bruno Caboclo, DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry, Lucas Nogueira, Patrick Patterson, Norman Powell, Terrance Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, Jason Thompson

The Raptors were clearing the second-best team in the Eastern Conference last season, but with teams like the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and New York Knicks making major offseason moves, there will be some added pressure on Toronto to continue their rise. After going 14-2 in this division last year, the increase in competition may not allow the Raptors to rack up as many easy wins as they did last year.  The addition of Al Horford to the Celtics on top of the new Knicks squad could have changed the landscape of the Atlantic Division. While other contenders in the Eastern Conference were improving their team to vault up the standings, the Raptors focused on resigning their own players. The Raptors will still be a playoff team, and very easily could be a top-2 team when the regular season ends, but other teams have started to close the gap, and it will be interesting to see how Toronto responds.

The backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will have to continue to carry the Raptors on the offensive end if this team wants to succeed. Lowry has had an up-and-down career in terms of his production, but is coming off of one of his best statistical seasons ever. DeRozan  continued to solidify himself as a top-15 player in the league and used this past season not only to secure a flashy, new contract, but also a spot on the gold medal-winning USA Men’s Olympic team in Rio. They proved that they could carry a team to the playoffs and be one of the better tandems in the NBA, but the team’s dependence on them to generate a majority of the offense was one of their top flaws. Toronto didn’t do much this offseason to bring in additional scoring or improve their bench, which means the scoring load will still fall to the starting backcourt. Players like Terrance Ross, Cory Joseph, and Jonas Valanciunas will need to be able to pick up some of the slack on off-nights for Lowry and DeRozan, but their ability to do so is unproven.

Overall

The Raptors will be a playoff team this year, there’s no doubt about that. It’s a matter of how far they can go and whether or not they have done enough to unseat the Cavaliers. They will get tested by the Celtics and the Pacers for the second-best team in the East, but they still have enough talent to make some noise. After finally getting the monkey off of their back that was their inability to get out of the first round of the playoffs, their expectations have to be to at least get back to the Eastern Conference Finals. Addition like Poeltl and Sullinger should help fill the void left by Biyombo and Scola, but key role players like Terrance Ross, DeMarre Carroll, and Cory Joseph will have to be more consistent than they were last year to help Lowry and DeRozan. The road to the Eastern Conference Finals will be more difficult this season, but the Raptors still have the talent, and they now have the experience, to get back to the top.

Prediction: 53-29

Update: Jerry Stackhouse named Head Coach

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