The Raptors won a franchise record 49 games last season, managing to secure the fourth seed along the way, before being swept in the first round by the Washington Wizards. That series was particularly concerning as they lost the four games by and average of 14 points, the Raptors actually won the regular season series between the two teams 3-0 and the Wizards were then knocked out in the following round 4-2: Toronto didn’t exactly lose to a powerhouse. Last season this team started the season 24-8 before ending it 25-25 for a final record of 49-33. The main cause of this was Kyle Lowry sustaining a back injury just two weeks after All-Star break and never fully recovering. This injury exposed the Raptors as being far too reliant on their All-Star Point Guard and as such, the Raptors made some moves this offseason to bring in some extra talent.
They added Canadians Cory Joseph and Anthony Bennett, drafted Delon Wright and Norman Powell (who looked really good in the Summer League) and picked up marquee free agent DeMarre Carroll from the Atlanta Hawks. Last season the Raptors were 18th in Points Allowed and 26th in Opponent Field Goal Percentage, an incredibly poor showing from a team that once prided itself on its defense. Carroll and Wright are particularly noted defenders and both add size that was lacking last season (the Raptors often played with Lou Williams at Shooting Guard and/or Terrence Ross at Small Forward) and as such, this team should improve and possibly reach the top 10 mark of years past. However, bringing in Carroll is an interesting fit offensively, as Carroll had 99% of his three point attempts and 82.7% of his Field Goal attempts last year were assisted in a Hawks offense that averaged the second most assists in the league. Conversely, the Raptors had the 9th least assists in the league last season. The Hawks created 61.3 points per game off of assists, whilst the Raptors averaged just 49.6 in a more stagnant and isolation heavy offense. How Carroll adjusts to this offense will be a key this season.
Along with this, to ensure they do not become a good but stagnating team, the Raptors must have improved production from top 10 picks Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. Both of these players have flashed enormous upside in their three years in the league, yet neither has produced quality basketball at a consistent level. This season it is expected that Ross will come off the bench as lead scorer for the second unit, a role which may indeed suit him better than the starting role of previous seasons.
After losing Amir Johnson, this team will start Patrick Patterson at Power Forward in a rotation that will include Luis Scola, Anthony Bennett and minutes from DeMarre Carroll when this team goes small. Johnson was an incredily important part of this Raptors team and by pairing a poor defender at the four (as the Raps will be doing with Patterson, Scola and Bennett) with Jonas Valanciunas at the five, the potential is there for defensive issues on the interior. This team traditionally starts well, but this season will play 11 of its first 15 matches away from home, a potentially damning run seeing as Lowry will undoubtedly be knocked around throughout the season and have some sort of lingering injury by the end – it’s a side effect of the way he plays. When Lowry is down the Raptors are down, so it really is pivotal that they get off to a good start and if not, don’t be surprised if we see this roster blown up by Masai Ujiri mid-season.
Projected Record: 49-33
My Predicted Wins: 45-50
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