Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

The long-suffering Raptors traded for Rudy Gay to add some firepower to the offense in January. Gay brings scoring ability, but it’s often inefficient and coupled with mediocre defense. At $18 million per year there are legitimate questions about whether having Gay on the roster will cost the team the ability to win.

Combining him with Demar Derozan on the wing seems like a recipe for disaster, but plus minus data from the end of the season actually favors the duo. As bad as combining two shoot-first gunners seems on paper, it actually worked out pretty well due to a number of factors. First among them was the complementary players surrounding the two wings. Kyle Lowry has always been an effective starter, though his effort has come and gone under coach Dwane Casey.

The primary bigs left after the Gay deal (which saw promising forward Ed Davis sent to Memphis) also offered a surprisingly complementary skill set. Amir Johnson had off the charts plus minus numbers for the season, a function of his solid defense and athletic finishing at the rim, where he put in a stellar 68.7% of his shots.

Rookie Jonas Valanciunas progressed as the year went along as well, and is the best prospect for the Raptors going forward. As a young, skilled center, he offers a lot to the team. This was demonstrated in his rookie campaign with a solid per-36 line of 13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks. He needs to cut his foul rate to make sure he can stay on the court, but moving forward Valanciunas should be a valuable centerpiece.

He offers a lot of upside, as does Gay (who had eye surgery in the offseason with the hope that actually being able to see the basket might improve his efficiency), and that will be the story for the Raptors this season. They have staked a lot on a high-variance squad, and new GM Masai Ujiri will not hesitate to put his stamp on the team given the opportunity.

Grabbing Ujiri from the cheapskate Nuggets may have been the best move the franchise could have made during the offseason. He put together an exciting and efficient team in Denver, and will likely look to maximize value. This means the likelihood of a salary-dump trade that hemorrhages talent is off the table, as Joe Dumars found out when he floated a laughably one-sided Gay-Rodney Stuckey deal early in the offseason.

This year the team could land anywhere from the playoffs to the bottom of the league. The projected starting lineup put together strong numbers in limited minutes last season, leading to the possibility that they can carry the team to the playoffs, and added depth in the form of newcomers Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Austin Daye, and Steve Novak will certainly help the cause. Unfortunately there is too much in the way for the Raptors to get over the top this season without a massive unexpected improvement by a member of their core, and that’s not something worth gambling on.

Predicted Finish: 32-50 | 3rd place in Atlantic Division | 11th place in Eastern Conference