Toronto Raptors Season Preview: Returning To Relevance

Rudy Gay must take his game to the next level for the Raptors to contend. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors are headed in a new direction. The franchise is in the midst of a five-year playoff drought, but made significant moves this offseason to both the front office and roster. The Raptors finished 34-48 last season (5th in the Atlantic division) but played .500 basketball since the acquisition of Rudy Gay and are expected to compete in the top-heavy, bottom-poor Eastern Conference.

Key Offseason Moves: On July 10, the Raptors traded Andrea Bargnani, their former No. 1 overall pick to the New York Knicks in exchange for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson along with one future first round draft pick and two future second round picks (though the Raptors released Camby and Richardson shortly after the deal).

Masai Ujiri replaced Bryan Colangelo as the team’s GM. Ujiri is the reigning Executive of the Year, an award he received while with the Denver Nuggets.

Other Offseason Additions: F – Steve Novak, PG – D.J. Augustin, F/C – Tyler Hansbrough, PG – Dwight Buycks, F – Austin Daye

Projected Starting Five: PG – Kyle Lowry SG – Demar DeRrozan SF – Rudy Gay PF – Amir Johnson C – Jonas Valanciunas

Questions Heading Into The Season: 

Can Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan lead Toronto?

Both Gay and DeRozan are, once again, expected to lead the Raptors in minutes per game. The duo, however, must play effective minutes on the court for their team to be successful. Both have the capability of becoming playmakers on the both ends of the floor, from producing turnovers on defense to generating high-flying dunks on offense.

Gay, 27, was acquired by the Raptors midway through the 2012 season and finished the year averaging 18.2 points while grabbing down 6.1 rebounds. The former 2006 No. 8 overall pick is considered a “go-to” scorer but does receive some criticism. One of the knocks on the 6′ 8″ small forward is his shot selection. He shot under 42 percent last season, but part of the problem was blamed on his vision, something Gay called “terrible.” Yet, the issue may be resolved after he got eye surgery this offseason to improve his sight.

DeRozan, 24, is an athletic, dynamic wing-man and one of the league’s best slashers. He averaged career bests of 18.1 points and 2.5 assists last season. One of his main issues, however, is his ability to shoot from the perimeter. Developing an outside shot would do wonders to his game. It will be interesting to see how the 6′ 7″ shooting guard compliments Gay, and vice versa, in their first full season together.

Will head coach Dwane Casey survive through the season?

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is on the hot seat. Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Dwane Casey is in the final year of his contract. Through two seasons with the Raptors, Casey has a record of 57-91. In his first season at the helm, Casey greatly improved the team’s defense. The Raptors went from allowing the 26th most points in the league (105.4 points per game) to being ranked 9th, holding opponents to just 94 points. Last season, however, their ranking dipped to 16th, giving up 98.7 points per game.

If Casey can get his team back to playing tough defense, combined with the efforts of Gay, DeRozan and co. on the offensive side of the ball, Casey can not only save his job, but the Raptors season as well.

Season Prediction: 38 – 44, 9th in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors will improve and have the ability to beat some quality teams, but it will not be enough to get them over the hump and into the playoffs for the first time since 2008.