5 Keys to a Toronto Raptors Playoff Berth in 2013-14

Morgan Chalfant@@mchalfant16Contributor IIIApril 4, 2013

5 Keys to a Toronto Raptors Playoff Berth in 2013-14

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    The Toronto Raptors have had a losing season. Currently, they are 11th in the Eastern Conference with 28 wins and 47 losses. It’s safe to say that the Raptors’ playoff dreams have been stifled for the 2012-13 season.

    Toronto won’t have a lot of cap space next year after taking on Rudy Gay’s hefty $16.4 million contract this past January, so the existing team members are going to need to step up next season if the Raptors want to make more of an impact. Let’s examine a few keys to a better season for the Raptors come fall. 

They Need to Play and Communicate Like a Team

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    The Raptors might have a “star” player in small forward Rudy Gay. Kyle Lowry might have his standout games, here and there. However, the Raptors’ game shouldn’t be about one single player. The team needs to do a better job communicating and playing together.

    Recently, coach Dwane Casey spoke out about his concern over the Raptors’ lack of communication. According to the Toronto Star, Casey said of his team: “We’ve got to do a better job of communicating, pointing, talking, declaring the ball and letting everyone know where everybody is.”

    Better communication will allow the Raptors to function more soundly as a unit. Moreover, guard Kyle Lowry needs to become more of a team player on defense by transitioning quickly from offense instead of hanging around the basket. 

They Need to Improve on Offense

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    Rudy Gay is a solid scorer. He is averaging 18.2 points and a field-goal percentage of .413 in 36.2 minutes per game this season. He totaled an impressive 34 points during the Raptors’ loss to the Pistons on April 1.

    However, the Raptors cannot count on Gay to lead them in scoring every night. Starters and bench players alike need to step up and take bold, smart shots.

    Moreover, Gay needs to work on driving and getting to the hoop to create more viable shot opportunities. A huge key to winning is scoring, and the Raptors need to work on their offensive play in order to score. 

The Bench Needs to Step Up

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    The Raptors’ roster is unique in that it is composed of very young players. Toronto has 12 players under the age of 30, and with youth can come strength and resistance to injury and wear-and-tear.

    The young bench players need to step up and get some solid experience next season, especially in the event that one of the starters has to sit out to rest an injury. Rudy Gay has recently been the victim of back problems, and his backups need to be ready to take the floor and produce at any moment.

    More experience will allow the bench players to develop and improve their play. This would make Toronto a young team and a deep team, both of which are significant advantages in the NBA.

They Need to Grab More Rebounds

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    According to ESPN.com, the Raptors are ranked at the 27th spot in the league for rebounds per game. More rebounds lead to more possessions, so Toronto’s players—especially those on the low post—need to make sure they stay on the boards next season and grab more rebounds.

    This means that power forwards Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson and centers Aaron Gray and Jonas Valanciunas need to be effectively aggressive when going after rebounds. If the Raptors want more scoring opportunities, they need to possess the ball more often. The men on the low post need to improve their rebounding. 

The Starters Need to Become Consistent Scorers

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    Yes, Rudy Gay can score. However, his shot selection is not always consistently strong, as evidenced by his field-goal percentages for certain games.

    He may have registered a field-goal percentage of .722 against Detroit on April 1, but his statistics of .286 against Phoenix on March 6 and .269 against the Lakers on March 8 were less stellar.

    So too does guard DeMar DeRozan need to improve his shooting and stay consistent. He averages a decent field-goal percentage of .432 to give him 17.5 points per game this season. However, he was mediocre during the March 31 matchup against Washington, when he registered 15 points and a field-goal percentage of .333.

    Both Gay and DeRozan could benefit from edited shot selection. The ups and downs of their statistics suggest that they're doing something wrong on offense, and perhaps that “something” has to do with the shots they choose to take.