How will the Raptors fair in 2013-14?

Playoff team or lottery team?

The Toronto Raptors are coming off a disappointing season, however the team is hoping to have all of their new acquisitions from both this and last year meshed in order to be a competitive team. The team is filled with young talent as well as a skilled player in Rudy Gay whom they acquired during the trade deadline of last year. The biggest move the Raptors did was this offseason in which they named Masai Ujiri as GM, formerly of the Denver Nuggets and the reigning NBA Executive of the Year. Ujiri has stated he did not want the team to tank, interestingly enough NBA prospect Andrew Wiggins who is projected to go first overall in next years draft stated he’d like to play for the Raptors. The first major move he made was trading Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks for Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, and three draft picks (2016 first, 2014 second, 2017 first). Camby has been bought out and Quentin Richardson is next in line. Essentially, the only player they receive is Novak, who is one of the NBA’s best three point shooters and just what the Raptors need. Toronto was downright terrible shooting the three ball at just 34.3%. In Toronto, Novak will be asked to stretch the floor and knock down threes. It was time for Bargnani and Toronto to part ways anyway. This also allows for promising big man and 2011 5th overall pick Jonas Valanciunas to play more and develop. The team also amnestied Linas Kleiza which was a wise move as he’s coming off an injury and it saves them from a luxury tax hit. He then signed Tyler Hansbrough to a multi year deal (2 years $7.2M) another young big man looking for a fresh start. Hansbrough is one of the toughest players in the league. He brings physicality to the team and while he may not be a game changer he’s the kind of gritty player you’d love to have on your side. To quote Hansbrough: “I felt like they could use a guy like me,” Hansbrough said. “I can bring a lot of toughness to the team, a lot of hard work and effort and bring some leadership just the way I approach the game and hopefully it will rub off.” A good signing for the Raptors as they’ve lacked a presence similar to Hansbrough since Reggie Evans left. To explain the fresh start part, Hansbrough recently stated he’s more than just the role player he’s been for the Pacers. He feels he could use his skills effectively and improved to take his game to the next level. Defense is undoubtedly his strong suit but he feels he can improve his offense to be a more complete player. Moving on, the Raptors have a skilled point guard by the name of Kyle Lowry. Now that Jose Calderon is out of town, Lowry has a bigger role and he has more freedom to gel with fellow wing players Rudy Gay and Demar Derozan whom I will speak more of later. Lowry proved himself a capable starter in his last two years in Houston where he posted averages of 14 points and 6.65 assist in 122 games (109 starts) in that time span. He is a tough defender who is quick and can get to the rim. Another interesting thin about Lowry is his ability to rebound where he averaged 4.3 a game in that time span as well as 4.7 a game last year. At just 6 feet that is impressive. Now with a full season under his belt in Toronto expect more out of him this year. Backing him up are newly signed FAs DJ Augustin and Dwight Buycks. Augustin was another capable starting PG in Charlotte where he averaged 14.4 ppg and 6.1 assist in his last full season there but he struggled last year in Indiana backing up George Hill. Now, DJ is looking to put that season behind him and prove himself worthy again. Augustin provides energy and play making off the bench and he was signed to a one year contract worth just $1.2M. Dwight Buycks on the other hand is an unproven yet promising player who flashed a ton of potential in the summer league. He averaged 15.1 points for the Tulsa 66ers in the NBA D-League in 2011-12 and he averaged 18 points a game last year in France. Moving to shooting guard, the Raptors have Demar Derozan another young promising player. He is one of the most electrifying players who is able to score but needs to work on his jump shot. He is a player I have been a big fan of since he entered the NBA and he gets better every year including last year which he posted career highs in points per game (18.1), rebounds per game (3.9), assist per game (2.5), free throw percentage (83.1%), three point percentage (28.3%), and minutes per game (36.7). Behind him is Terrence Ross from Washington and the 2012 8th overall pick. Ross is another electrifying player and the reigning dunk contest champion. His rookie year was somewhat of a let down as he averaged just 6.4 points a game on 40.7% shooting. Both Raptors fans and I expected more. Although he did show flashes last year in a 29 point outing vs the Blazers in which he sunk six threes. This next year is huge for him. Ross is very talented and athletic which makes him a solid defender with potential and he’s already a solid ball handler with good vision. What he needs to do is improve his offense game and mechanics to become a game changer. Fellow sophomore Jonas V who was introduced earlier has bulked up this off season  is ready to be a solid contributor. The fate of the Raptors season and future may very well depend on the development of this two players. Filling out the starting lineup is star Rudy Gay and solid PF Amir Johnson. Gay was brought in via trade by the Grizzlies and is a solid all around player who can do it all. Gay averaged 19.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.8 assist playing for Raptors last year. Pretty solid all around numbers. There have been trade rumors about Gay in the last few weeks but if the team wants to make the playoffs this year they’d be wise to keep him. The Raptors have a bright future IMO. Just look at the roster:

PG: Kyle Lowry

SG: DeMar Derozan

SF: Rudy Gay

PF: Amir Johnson

C: Jonas Valanciunas

Amir Johnson played well last year averaging 10 points and 7.5 rebounds (both career best) having Hansbrough behind him is a tough physical tandem. Behind Jonas is Aaron Gray, the team’s former starting center who can rebound and defend but not much more. The last key piece of the roster is Landry Fields. Fields was once a promising rookie. He was named rookie of the month as well as All-Rookie First Team. His rookie year was by far his best where he averaged 10 points and 6.4 dimes starting 81 games. But Landry’s play has dipped every year since including averaging less than 5 ppg last year. He’s talented and hopes for a bounce back year next season. In my opinion, the final three playoff spots in the East are wide open. Possible candidates include Washington, Hawks, Cavs, and others. Even the Bobcats may have a shot. As of now, I don’t have Toronto in the playoffs. However they are certainly there in the race to me. It still remains that other Eastern teams are better and the Raptors may not be able to compete and the mess continues with players not getting along etc. However I don’t see that happening.The Raptors are certainly talented but can they make the playoffs?

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