From top to bottom, the Toronto Raptors have arguably their deepest roster since they last made the NBA playoffs six years ago. It's just a matter of all their pieces producing at the level they're capable of.
The starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas all return to their respective roles for the upcoming season, which almost seems like a rarity looking back in the annals of franchise history.
The additions of D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough and Steve Novak shored up the bench depth, while Terrence Ross looks for a bounce-back sophomore season after failing to create much of a buzz in 2012-13.
Several media outlets that cover the NBA seem to be discounting the Raptors as a credible postseason threat. Instead, many question the current makeup of the team and whether or not key trades need to be made in an effort to blow things up and possibly head back to the lottery once again.
There's no way of accurately forecasting how things are going to play out until the opening buzzer sounds and the regular season gets officially underway.
Until then, perhaps it's best to take a closer look at the roster in question and see how these players stack up against one another. Who is the best of the best, and who is set to find themselves with a permanent residence at the end of the bench?
Unless noted otherwise, all statistics and salary information is courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.com and HoopsHype.com
14) Dwight Buycks, PG
Dwight Buycks has never played one minute of regular season NBA basketball. He went undrafted in 2011, and he's currently ranked as the third-string point guard on the team depth chart. I should also mention that his last name is unpronounceable to 99 percent of fans who read it for the first time.
For the record, it's pronounced Bikes.
By default, Buycks has to be ranked last on this list because of his aforementioned résumé. There's no guarantee that the minutes are going to be there for the 24-year-old rookie, so it's difficult to imagine him having much of an impact, if at all.
He's currently outperforming D.J. Augustin in preseason action, so perhaps Buycks can shock some people and steal some playing time from the five-year veteran guard. His 23.0 points in the Las Vegas Summer League proved that he can play the game of basketball. All he needs now is further opportunities to showcase what he can really do.
13) Austin Daye, SG/SF
I'd say Bruce and Kris Jenner have a better chance of reconciling their marriage than Austin Daye does of becoming a regular member of the rotation. There are simply too many mouths to feed at the wing positions. Daye is at the bottom of that food chain.
He's only averaged seven or more points in a season once (7.5 in 2011) in his four-year NBA career. He also hasn't shot higher than 45.0 percent from the field since his rookie year with Detroit when he shot 46.4 percent.
You can do a heck of a lot worse than Austin Daye as the 13th or 14th guy on your roster. He can shoot from long range, defend the perimeter and use his 7'2" wingspan to block shots.
Will he see the court long enough for that to happen? Probably not.
12) Aaron Gray, C
Aaron Gray is the only true center on this roster that isn't named Jonas Valanciunas. That goes to show just how weak the depth is at the 5-spot.
That's not meant to be a slight against him, but the Raptors could certainly use a little more help in the frontcourt.
He's a big body who can clog the lane and score garbage buckets around the basket. According to 82games.com, opponents only shot 34.2 percent against Gray in the paint, so he does bring some value on the defensive end.
Where Gray really makes his presence known is in the locker room. The coaching staff and his teammates continuously praise him for his constant professionalism both on and off the court. You can never have too many guys like that.
11) Quincy Acy, SF/PF
The plan this season was for head coach Dwane Casey to play Quincy Acy more at small forward for matchup purposes. He can use his strength and quickness to become a shutdown defender at a position that is seeing larger players start and finish games.
You're still going to see that from time to time, but even at an undersized 6'7", Acy's true passion lies in playing power forward.
There's a lot to like about Acy's game. His physical play is endearing to fans, he's regularly crashing the boards and his energy is always at a high level. He even has a nice touch from the free-throw line, nailing 81.6 of his attempts from the charity stripe.
You can start to see Acy slowly carving out a nice little fanbase for himself with the Raptors. That's because Torontonians love players who bust their tails and compete with enthusiasm and emotion. That pretty much describes Acy to a tee.
2012-13 statistics (Knicks): 81 games, 20.3 minutes, 6.6 points, 42.5 percent from three-point range, 1.9 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.1 turnovers, 11.3 PER
2013-14 salary: $3,750,001
What's the over/under on how many Discount Double-Check's Steve Novak will perform this season? Eighty-two? At least one per game? How cool would that be?
If you're expecting Novak to be anything more than a three-point shooter, you're going to be let down in a major way. That's all he does. He can't play defense worth a lick and he isn't around the basket enough to contribute on the boards. If you thought the 7'0" Andrea Bargnani and his career 4.8 rebounds were bad, just look at the 6'10" Novak and his average of 1.4.
Just remember that you've been warned. If his deficiencies are really that much of a concern to you, just let Novak dry your tears with the swishes of his myriad of long-range bombs.
In 2012-13, Novak shot 42.5 percent from behind the arc, which was 10th in the NBA. His career 43.3 three-point shooting percentage is also good enough for sixth all-time. To summarize, Novak is really, really good at what he does, even though it's just one thing.
This is a team that ranked just 26th in the NBA at 34.3 percent a year ago. All of his other flaws can hopefully be masked by his fellow teammates. Novak just needs to shoot, shoot and shoot some more, via the Toronto Star:
I’m very clear about who I am as a player and I think my role, it can be (needed) on this team. Obviously, to spread the floor for DeMar (DeRozan) and Rudy (Gay) and just give them space is important, and to just make shots when I get them and just always be aggressive.
If he's doing that routinely for the Raptors, no one is going to complain.
2012-13 statistics: 51 games, 20.3 minutes, 4.7 points, 45.7 percent from the field, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 turnovers, 10.3 PER
2013-14 salary: $5,225,000
Can we all finally get over the fact that Landry Fields is making far more money than he's actually worth?
I get it. It's frustrating. I totally understand. The $13,725,000 he's owed over the next two seasons is a tad extreme. If it were a cheaper deal, fans would be head over heels for Fields in a more positive tone. That's just not the reality we live in.
His elbow and hand movement is still not where it needs to be. Even by watching him play in the preseason, you can tell that Fields' shooting motion is a little off. That's going to get better over time, but just how long it will take remains to be seen.
During his rookie season, Fields shot 39.3 percent from three-point range. Since then, he's only hit 33 of his 135 attempts from long range. The Raptors could certainly use a little more firepower in that department, but with Fields' shooting woes and recent surgery, who knows if he can ever return to those numbers.
Even if you were to permanently take away his ability to shoot the basketball, Fields could still provide you with quality minutes by contributing in other areas. As a 6'7" small forward, he can defend multiple positions depending on who he's matched up against. He's also a very underrated passer who can push the ball in transition and run the fast break.
In the case of Landry Fields, it's just a matter of taking the good with the bad. I'd like to be optimistic in the sense that I do believe his shooting percentages will return to a respectable level, but there's no real way of knowing. It's better to take a wait-and-see approach and just hope for the best.
2012-13 statistics (Pacers): 76 games, 16.1 minutes, 4.7 points, 35.0 percent from the field, 1.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.0 blocks, 0.9 turnovers, 11.0 PER
2013-14 salary: $1,267,000
From 2005-06 to the midway point of last season, the Raptors were blessed with always having two point guards on the roster who were both capable of being the starter at any time because of their individual talent. That's the luxury that came with having José Calderón on the team. It had its controversies, but it was a dilemma that some franchises around the NBA would give an arm and a leg to have.
D.J. Augustin now takes over the mantle of backup point guard with starters experience ready to create some inner competition. Well, that's only half true. He is indeed the backup to Kyle Lowry, but there is no job to be won here.
Here's to hoping that his last season with Indiana was just a mirage. After a nice four-year stint to start his career with the Charlotte Bobcats, the 25-year-old saw his numbers fall across the board as a Pacer in 2012-13. The 16.1 minutes he averaged weren't what he was accustomed to playing, so perhaps that explains his dip in production.
He's gotten off to quite the rocky start this preseason, shooting a lousy 25.0 percent from the field. Augustin has also looked rather befuddled running the offense, appearing to be lost and perplexed as he struggled to find his open teammates.
Putting all of that to the side, Augustin is still a former top-10 pick in the NBA draft with over 140 starts under his belt. He needs to be the player that he was in Charlotte and not the one that toiled away in Indiana.
Otherwise, if Lowry ever goes down for a prolonged period of time, the Raptors will be left with a point guard who simply can't hold down the fort.
2012-13 statistics: 73 games, 17.0 minutes, 6.4 points, 40.7 percent from the field, 2.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 0.7 turnovers, 10.4 PER
2013-14 salary: $2,678,640
This was a tricky one. Positioning Terrence Ross on this list is like counting the individual strands of hair on your head. It's next to impossible to do.
Is it easier to rank Ross simply on his potential as a player, or would it be fair to place Ross based on his performance, or lack thereof, thus far?
No. 7 seems reasonable enough. His upside is out of this world. He's a superior athlete with a well-known leaping ability. Just go back and watch some of his dunks from last season and you'll see what I mean.
At this stage of his young career, though, you can't put 100-percent faith in him to do his job when he's out on the floor. Whether it's taking horribly contested shots or being beaten by his man on defense, Ross always gives you a reason to pull your hair out.
Maybe then it would be easier to count those strands, am I right?
Through his first four appearances of the 2013-14 NBA preseason, Ross has been ghastly. He's averaging a respectable 7.0 points for his 19.5 minutes of playing time, but he's only shooting 37.9 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from three-point range. Some of the shots he's been throwing up make you want to leave your post, run down on the court, grab him by the arm and give him a stern lecture on what NOT to do with the basketball.
His ceiling right now is as a sixth man who can provide instant offense for the second-unit. The Raptors still have yet to find that guy, but Ross can fit the bill. Just be ready for a few headaches along the way.
2012-13 statistics (Pacers): 81 games, 16.9 minutes, 7.0 points, 43.2 percent from the field, 4.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 1.0 turnovers, 15.3 PER
2013-14 salary: $3,183,000
Remember that time when Tyler Hansbrough took down Jonas Valanciunas with a UFC-style throw during a game in Indiana back in February of last season? The backlash he received from announcers and fans alike was pretty intense.
Fast forward a little less than one year later and that same player who nearly maimed one of our brightest prospects is now officially one of us.
Welcome aboard, Psycho-T.
Hansbrough is one of those players you hate to go up against but love to have standing beside you as one of your teammates. He's rough, tough and downright merciless. Whether it's grabbing an offensive rebound or just defending the low block, Hansbrough will do whatever's necessary to make sure he ends up with the basketball.
Yes, it's just the preseason, but making a memorable first impression is always important. Hansbrough has gotten to the free-throw line 19 times, grabbed 22 rebounds, blocked six shots and scored 46 points in 18.5 minutes over four games.
He needs to avoid going overboard with jump shots, as he only managed to hit 68 of his 223 attempts last season. Hansbrough is at his best when he's drawing fouls around the rim and playing with his back to the basket.
He's not a game-changer that's going to propel the Raptors back to the playoffs on his own, but having been a winner everywhere that he's played, Hansbrough can be a big part of the culture change for the franchise.
2012-13 statistics: 81 games, 28.7 minutes, 10.0 points, 55.4 percent from the field, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.4 blocks, 1.4 turnovers, 17.33 PER
2013-14 salary: $6,500,000
According to 82games.com, the Raptors scored 7.5 more points per 100 possessions with Amir Johnson on the court last season. They also allowed 6.4 fewer, which comes out to a net difference of +13.9.
In layman's terms, Johnson is kind of a big deal.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Amir Johnson was the best player on the Toronto Raptors in 2012-13. He was dependable, he played through pain, and he even developed a nice mid-range game, shooting 41.6 percent from the top of the key. From the end of October until mid-April, Johnson proved his value every time he competed.
He was the only player in the league to foul opponents at least 300 times, leading the NBA in that category with 301. The Raptors were clearly a better basketball team when he was playing, so staying off the pine and continuing to log significant minutes will be vital to this team's success.
Can you believe that he's only 26 years old? It feels like he's been around forever. Well, that's because he has. Johnson is entering his ninth NBA season and his fifth as a Raptor, which ties him with DeMar DeRozan for longest-tenured on the team.
Now if only he could get the idea out of his head of shooting three-pointers. I appreciate his readiness to add a new skill to his repertoire, but that shouldn't be his game. It's a nice weapon to have when the time calls for it, but I'd rather him not fall in love with that shot.
Once the restraining order is in place and he's officially barred from being within 100 feet of any three-point shots, I'd look for him to continue his improvement and see his role with the Raptors become even larger.
2012-13 statistics: 68 games, 29.7 minutes, 11.6 points, 40.1 percent from the field, 4.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 2.3 turnovers, 17.51 PER
2013-14 salary: $6,210,000
Do you remember the Neuralyzer from the Men in Black films? It's a special device which is able to give laser-guided amnesia to anyone not wearing tinted glasses, such as the ones Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones don throughout the movies.
Is there any way we can use it on Kyle Lowry and have the memory of the 2012-13 season erased completely from his psyche? It's better left forgotten.
From his problematic attitude and tumultuous relationship with head coach Dwane Casey to his injury issues and overall disappointing play, Lowry's first year with the Raptors was anything but a pleasant experience.
Thankfully, that was then and this is now. Lowry has something to prove to himself, his teammates and the rest of the league, especially with it being a contract year. He's noticeably shed quite a bit of weight over the offseason, which has always been a major strike against him. It should help with his quickness and agility on both ends of the court.
The beautiful thing is that there really isn't any quality depth in the form of D.J. Augustin and Dwight Buycks that's ready to take his starting job from him like there was during the José Calderón era. He has free rein at his position with no competition whatsoever.
With Lowry being an expiring contract, his name will surely come up in trade discussions if the Raptors begin to struggle. It's just the nature of things. However, unless management can land a quality floor general in return, I'd expect Lowry to be sticking around.
Twelve points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists seems like a sure bet, but if Lowry can improve upon those numbers and elevate his game, he could be seeing a nice chunk of change next summer.
2012-13 statistics: 62 games played, 23.9 minutes, 8.9 points, 55.7 percent from the field, 6.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, 1.5 turnovers, 15.62 PER
2013-14 salary: $3,526,440
Do you hear that? Listen closely. Hold your hand up to your ear and don't make a sound. Is it getting louder? It should be.
What is it exactly? Well, it's the Jonas Valanciunas bandwagon rolling on through Toronto. It's packed full of rambunctious fans ready to anoint the 21-year-old the saviour of the franchise. Is it too much too soon? I'm not one to say.
He's certainly making it difficult to hide from all of the hype and buildup he's created for himself with what he accomplished this summer. Winning the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League is a nice feather in his cap. The competition was questionable, but it's still some nice recognition to have for an up-and-coming center looking to establish his name around NBA circles.
He also played some quality minutes for a Lithuania team which garnered a silver medal in the FIBA EuroBasket tournament in Slovenia. In 16.5 minutes, Valanciunas averaged 6.5 points on 65.9 percent shooting, as well as 5.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. His three double-doubles were also the most in the tournament.
It should also be brought up how in just a few short months, Valanciunas went from looking like Donnie Wahlberg in The Sixth Sense to Chris Evans in Captain America: The First Avenger. Maybe that's a little extreme, but you get the idea. The 15 pounds of muscle he added to his frame really shows. Lord knows he'll need it going up against the likes of Brook Lopez and Tyson Chandler in the Atlantic Division.
Only Aaron Gray sits behind him on the depth chart, so it's imperative that Valanciunas avoids foul trouble and stays healthy throughout the course of the season.
He's the anti-Andrea Bargnani. That alone should get you excited for what's in store for his sophomore year.
2012-13 statistics: 82 games, 36.7 minutes, 18.1 points, 44.5 percent from the field, 3.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.8 turnovers, 14.81 PER
2013-14 salary: $9,500,000
DeMar DeRozan has suited up for the Raptors for 304 regular season games, which is ninth-longest in franchise history. He still has yet to see any meaningful postseason action.
With the playoffs being his motivation, DeRozan used this summer as means to make huge strides in both his individual game and his physique, via Sports Illustrated:
It means everything to me, especially going into my fifth year and I haven't played in the playoffs. I just really took my conditioning and skill work to another level. I really worked my butt off in every aspect. Sometimes I'd go two or three times a day, just so I can get comfortable at everything and not really feel any weakness.
It's starting to become universally understood that if Toronto wants to be a threat in the Eastern Conference, DeMar DeRozan can't be its best player. However, his consistent improvement over the years and continued development in both his offense and defense are crucial for this team to achieve its goals. He's not the No. 1 guy, but he still plays a big role in where this team is headed.
His new deal, which pays him $9.5 million a year until 2016-17, is proof that DeRozan is committed to this organization and its eventual turnaround, via Sports Illustrated:
I want to be that guy who stuck through the tough times and made it when the sun came out. Once we get to winning, everything else in the past will be forgotten. It's easier to want to be somewhere else and play on a good team, but this is where I want to be and overcome all of that.
Through four games of the preseason, DeRozan has looked confident in attacking the basket and not always settling for jump shots. Hopefully this newfound willingness to play more around the rim will carry over once wins and losses start to matter at the end of the month.
2012-13 statistics: 75 games, 35.8 minutes, 18.2 points, 41.6 percent from the field, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 2.6 turnovers, 15.66 PER
2013-14 salary: $17,888,932
Roughly 25 or so games into the upcoming season, general manager Masai Ujiri should have a clearer understanding as to whether or not Rudy Gay has a long-term future with this franchise.
If the Raptors come out of the gates slow for the second-straight year, Gay could be the scapegoat, even if he's putting up solid numbers.
It's hard to argue the notion that he's the most talented player on this roster. In the 2013-14 edition of #NBArank over at ESPN.com, Gay was ranked No. 55 in the league, making him the highest Raptor on the list. He's one of the top wing talents in the NBA and a borderline All-Star when he's healthy.
This isn't one of those situations where the Raptors absolutely have to move him. Getting rid of the remaining two years and $37.2 million on his contract would be nice, but it's not as if Gay is pulling an Andrea Bargnani and wearing out his welcome in Toronto.
If he is in fact moved, it's hard to imagine the team getting equal value in return. Expiring contracts and draft picks would be a decent haul, but what are the chances of Toronto receiving an above-average slashing forward who can put up big numbers on offense? Frankly, trading Gay would be a sign that the Raptors are looking towards the future, rather than realistically competing for a postseason berth in the here and now.
He's obviously going to opt-in to the final year of his deal that pays him $19,317,326 in 2014-15. No one else would give him that kind of money, so he'd be a fool not to.
Again, if Gay lasts the entire season, it's because the Raptors are thriving in the win column and right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.
If it turns out that this core doesn't work and yet another trip to the NBA draft lottery is on the horizon, Gay could be on his way out.
Twenty pounds of added muscle during the offseason and corrective eye surgery to fix his astigmatism could be the ingredients that take Gay back to an elite level, so there is hope in that regard.
Follow Christopher Walder on Twitter @WalderSports