The 2012-13 Toronto Raptors season looks to be as unpredictable as any in the franchise's history.
With a great defensive coach in Dwane Casey and a healthy amount of talent, the Raptors could easily be considered a sleeper team. Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani should be an impressive 1-2 punch on offence, while rookie Lithuanian centre Jonas Valanciunas looks to build upon an impressive pre-season and become a sorely needed defensive anchor.
There was a clear off-season strategy to acquire two-way players, so expect Landry Fields, Terrence Ross, John Lucas and Dominic McGuire to continue the road to defensive respectability.
The Raptors should be battling the Bucks, Hawks and Bulls for the final two playoff spots.
But with seven new players, including three starters, cohesion and team chemistry will take time to develop. Their playoff hopes are also hampered by the 16 intra-divisional games. Boston, New York, Philadelphia and the new-look Brooklyn Nets make the Atlantic Division one of the toughest in the NBA
In the end, too many things have to go right for the Raptors to crack their four-year playoff drought, while one key injury could land them right back in the lottery.
Here's what, and who, to watch this season for the Raptors:Projected Record:
39-43, 9th in Eastern ConferenceKey Additions:
Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Landry Fields, Terrence RossKey Losses:
Jerryd Bayless, James Johnson
Kyle LowryProjected Stats:
17.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 7.0 apg
It didn't take long for Lowry to make his mark. In a pre-season game against the Bucks, Lowry grabbed several late-game rebounds and hit the floor to tip a pass, igniting a fastbreak. It's this type of heart and hustle that have been sorely lacking from the Raptors' roster. He's also shown a propensity for taking, and making, clutch shots, giving the team a late-game closer. His bulldog mentality (reminiscent of Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie) may be worrisome, as it could lead to injuries and Toronto can not afford to lose its best player.
Calderon is the most polarizing player on the Raptors' roster. Supporters will point to his offensive stability and impressive shooting, while detractors will bemoan his abysmal defence and lack of creativity. While his defence is hard to watch, he's a great change of pace to Lowry. His steady hand should lead to a stable bench. Either way, Calderon is one of the better backup point guards in the league. 3rd string:
John Lucas III
Lucas played so well in the pre-season that the coaching staff is considering playing him and Calderon together in a two-point-guard lineup. So while he's listed as a third-stringer, expect him to get a sizable number of minutes. By the way, he shot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from the three-point line. That's unsustainable, but outstanding.Shooting Guard
DeMar DeRozanProjected Stats:
16.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
One thing was clear from pre-season: DeRozan will be the Raptors' main post-up weapon. And considering he's 6'7", it's probably not a bad idea. The key for DeRozan is to add another facet to his game that doesn't involve putting the ball in the bucket. Whether it's rebounding, playmaking or defence, he must make a difference outside of his offence. Considering he's in a contract year, he has all the motivation to do so.
A swollen knee and the flu kept the first-round pick from seeing significant pre-season action. So it's hard to know exactly what to expect. From his limited minutes, Ross seemed to be trying too hard to be a "system guy" and did little to stand out. Perhaps when the offence is a bit more structured, Ross will slide into a comfortable role of being a spot-up shooter, but he'll earn his minutes with pesky defence.3rd string:
Alan Anderson is a great third-string shooting guard. A low-mistake player with great range on his jumpshot, his steady presence might vault him up the depth chart if Ross struggles.Small Forward
Landry FieldsProjected Stats:
9.0 ppg, 6 rpg, 2.5 apg
Fields does a lot of small things that go under the radar. Moving without the basketball and help defence are trademarks of his heady style of basketball. Unfortunately, he seems to have completely lost the ability to shoot. With the range-deficient DeRozan at shooting guard, the Raptors can't afford to have a small forward who also can't hit the long ball. With a hefty off-season contract in tow, Fields will be under a microscope from critical fans.
Players that can shoot you into games can just as quickly shoot you out of them. Kleiza fits this basketball adage to a tee. He is probably playing out of position at the small forward, as he's better suited as a stretch power forward. If he struggles, he could be a prime candidate for the Raptors' amnesty clause.3rd string:
I can't make this clear enough: I like Dominic McGuire. His length, athleticism and a defensive edge should make him the primary backup. I'd start a petition if it would make a difference.Power Forward
Andrea BargnaniProjected Stats:
20.0 ppg, 6.5rpg, 1.0 bpg
Something strange happened in pre-season: Bargnani looked completely disinterested on offence, but locked-in and focused on defence. It would be refreshing to see him provide a block per game, something he hasn't done since the 09-10 season. While it's great to see the defensive fire, Bargnani's 20 points per game are crucial to the team's playoff hopes. He needs to avoid the temptation of the three-point shot (nearly four attempts per game in the preseason) since he's at his best when he's attacking the paint. If Bargnani can put together a solid effort on both ends of the floor, an All-Star nod will be in his future.
Is this the same Ed Davis? The third-year power forward looked aggressive and confident in the pre-season. Despite his knack for rebounds, Davis's key to the season will be his 12-15 foot jumpshot. If he can hit from midrange consistently, expect him to be the first big off the bench.
Acy will be lucky to see any minutes at all this year. In fact, the second round pick may be destined for the D-League.Centre
Jonas Valancunias Projected stats:
7.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg
It took just one game for the 20-year-old rookie to snatch the starting centre job from Aaron Gray. His defensive mobility and relentless motor endeared him to Casey immediately and his maturity and offensive patience shocked even the harshest critics. Rebounding, blocking shots and always active, Valanciunas has an outside shot at Rookie of the Year.
At 6-foot-9, Johnson is undersized at the 5 spot. However, his warrior-like mentality and newfound 18-20 foot jumpshot will make him a valuable backup.3rd string:
The slow-footed Gray will see limited minutes and will only be used to guard the larger centres of the league.