Newcomers Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross and Landry Fields will team up with an already promising young core, led by DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani, to carry Toronto to their first postseason appearance since the 2007-08 season.
Despite making big moves this offseason, many of them went unnoticed by casual fans. Jonas Valanciunas is a terrific talent out of Lithuania, while Lowry is a top-15 point guard in the game and improves every season.
Finally, a full season with Dwane Casey will benefit the young Raptors players, who had to learn on the fly in last year’s shortened campaign.
The Raptors, amazingly, were able to improve on their previous season’s win total, despite playing 16 fewer games and missing their best player, Andrea Bargnani, for half the season. Although “Il Mago” is still not a great defender or rebounder, he is a very good shooter and a dynamic scorer.
The Raptors didn’t struggle to stop teams from scoring, but they did have trouble getting baskets themselves. A full season of Bargnani would help Toronto's offense greatly and give them the opportunity to keep up with New York, Boston and Brooklyn.
After a promising rookie campaign in 2010-11, Landry Fields took a step back last year. His three-point percentage was especially bad, as it dipped to 25.6% after he shot 39.3% from behind the arc the year before. Although his numbers were poor last year, it’s not like Fields forgot how to shoot.
Many young players struggled last year with their shot. After the lockout ended suddenly in December, the majority of the non-veterans were not prepared for the new season. A full offseason to work on his shot will help Fields get his confidence back and allow him to become the starting small forward next season.
The Raptors went from 29th in team field goal percentage in 2010-11 to 7th last year. Dwane Casey preaches defense and now has a better core than he did in his first season as head coach. Lowry, Fields and Valanciunas are average to above-average defenders and give Toronto a good chance of surpassing last year’s team field goal percentage.
The wildcard is DeMar DeRozan who played poor on-ball defense, but is an athletic player with long arms who could turn into one of the better defenders on the squad.
While the Raptors were a competitive team last year, Casey only had a few weeks to instill his system into his new team. With such a young roster, some of the players struggled to adapt right away, such as DeMar DeRozan.
A full offseason to preach rebounding and team defense will make the Raptors stronger and more prepared. The team chemistry will also improve as everyone’s role will be more defined.
If Lowry did not get injured last year, the Raptors would’ve traded more than a future first-round pick to acquire him. One of the hardest workers in the league, Lowry continues to get better every season and will be one of the top point guards in the Eastern Conference.
While he is not an exceptional passer, Lowry will still be a nice upgrade over Calderon because of his defense and rebounding. Thankfully, the Raptors will not have to worry about Andrea Bargnani’s rebounding deficiencies with Lowry and Valanciunas on the floor.
According to ESPN Draft Expert Chad Ford, Valanciunas would’ve been the second pick in the draft had he waited until this year to enter. The Lithuanian center is a terrific rebounder and low-post defender, and is comparable to Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls.
Valanciunas should step in and be the number one center right away. He is a huge upgrade over Aaron Gray, who started the majority of games last year. Expect JV to make the All-Rookie First Team and be in the discussion for Rookie of the Year.