Point guard Kyle Lowry needs to become more of a leader next season.
Though the Toronto Raptors ended the 2012-13 season with a bang, they began slowly and disappointingly with a 4-19 record and were shaken up by the big trade for Rudy Gay in January. Now, the Raptors must look toward next season in order to identify the greatest problem areas on the court.
First and foremost, point guard Kyle Lowry needs to step it up as a leader. After Jose Calderon was dealt away in January, Lowry failed to impress critics and fans at the star point guard position.
For the 2012-13 season, Lowry averaged 11.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists per 29.7 minutes of game play. Though this was a career-high for his boards, Lowry still needs to focus on his offensive play instead of relying on DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay to score the bulk of the points.
Eric Koreen of the National Post wrote of the guard, “Lowry cemented his pre-Toronto reputation as a talented player who is too easily distracted by what goes wrong around him. He was never on the same page as coach Dwane Casey, and he did not grab hold of the Raptors the way the front office wanted him to.”
However, according to the Toronto Star, Lowry recently hinted that he and Dwane Casey had finally solidified their bond, which raises hopes at least a little bit for next season. Nevertheless, he needs to improve his leadership skills and become a better facilitator on offense next season.
The blame can’t all fall on Kyle Lowry, though. The Raptors all need to step it up on offense, particularly in terms of shot selection. As a whole, the Raptors need to get to the basket more and also work on their three-point shooting. Toronto ranks 25th in three-point shooting with a three-point percentage of .343. They also rank 20th in field-goal percentage with .446 this season.
Though Rudy Gay led the team most games in scoring after his arrival in Toronto, his shot selection was sometimes questionable. He shot a mere .368 percent outside of the restricted area this season, meaning he was taking many more difficult long shots than he was making. National Post reports that Gay has vision issues but refuses to wear contact lenses. If Gay does have such sight issues, they could be to blame for his shooting difficulties from the outside. Gay needs to get glasses and start developing better judgment on the court.
While they need to work on offense, the Raptors do also need to spend time perfecting their defensive play. This season, the team fell from 14th to 22nd in defensive efficiency, despite Toronto bringing in head coach Dwane Casey to improve the defensive play. Perhaps this decline had something to do with the Raptors trading Ed Davis in January, who was a solid asset on defense. For the 2012-13 season, Davis averaged 5.7 rebounds per game.
The Raptors also lost whatever defensive force they had in power forward Andrea Bargnani, who averaged a career-worst 3.7 rebounds per game and ended his season early due to an elbow injury.
However, low post defenders rookie center Jonas Valanciunas and power forward Amir Johnson played well, especially at the end of the season. For 2012-13, Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.9 minutes of game play. Johnson averaged 10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in 28.7 minutes per game.
The Raptors have assets in Valanciunas and Johnson in terms of rebounding and big defenders on the low post. Since the All-Star break, the Raptors moved up to the 20th spot in defensive efficiency, indicating that Valanciunas’s improvement was helping on defense. Provided these two continue to play well, rebound and show improvement next season, the Raptors can feasibly rise in ranking defensively.
In sum, the Raptors need to improve point guard Kyle Lowry, their shot selection and their defensive play next season. They’ve been shut out of the playoffs since 2007, but if the Raptors focus on these areas they could turn their fate around in 2014.