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Just Photoshop Alan Anderson out

Dwane Casey’s coaching staff is all but set, free agency and a trade have addressed the team’s needs of three-point shooting, a third big man, a backup point guard and the longstanding need to rid themselves of Andrea Bargnani, Summer League is already behind us and the Raptors have even bought a couple of players out.

Assuming that Quentin Richardson is dealt with as Marcus Camby was and if no major trades are in the cards for the remainder of the off-season, we seem to have a pretty good idea of what this team will look like when they take the floor in October.

On that note, here’s how I see things shaping up right now in terms of Toronto’s depth chart…

I’d usually break the players down into three categories (point guards, wings and bigs), but since Steve Novak and Quincy Acy will probably play both forward positions and not much else, I listed them separately as forwards.

Point Guards Wings Forwards Bigs
Kyle Lowry Rudy Gay Steve Novak Jonas Valanciunas
D.J. Augustin DeMar DeRozan Quincy Acy Amir Johnson
Dwight Buycks Terrence Ross Tyler Hansbrough
Landry Fields Aaron Gray

As of right now, I think we’ll see an eight-to-10 man rotation that involves a starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas with D.J. Augustin, Steve Novak and Tyler Hansbrough joined in the usual second unit by Terrence Ross and Landry Fields.

Ross and Fields will likely battle for minutes as the team’s third wing since there will usually be one or two starters on the floor with a combination of the second stringers, while Hansbrough should join one of Johnson or Valanciunas on the floor.

I’d imagine that if the season started today, Buycks, Acy and Gray would make up the third string portion of the roster, but each will also have plenty of opportunity to earn more time.

Buycks has the advantage of being able to play off the ball as well as running the point, so he can step into primary backup duties if one of Lowry or Augustin gets hurt (or if he simply outperforms Augustin, which may not be that far-fetched) and he can play the two with one of Lowry or Augustin working as the lead guard in a small-ball lineup. Acy and Gray will fight with Hansbrough for the majority of their minutes, but Acy can eat up some time at the three as well if the Raptors need him to, while Gray should see his share of time on the floor when the Raps match up with a bigger, bruising centre.

Toronto’s starters should be solid, as the combination of Lowry, DeRozan, Gay, Johnson and Valanciunas ranked as the fifth-best five-man unit in the NBA last season with a net rating of 12.9 and a fourth-ranked defensive rating of 92.5. When you consider that neither Lowry nor Gay were at their best in 2012-13 and that Valanciunas appears poised for a breakout season, there’s reason to believe that the Raptors’ starting unit can be as good, if not better in 2013-14.

The real questions surround the bench. Augustin was awful last season, Buycks is unproven in the NBA, Ross has just one season under his belt, Landry Fields’ first season in Toronto was a disaster, Hansbrough, while effective, has his limitations, Acy can’t be relied upon for heavy minutes yet and Aaron Gray is Aaron Gray, with all due respect to The White Panther.

The only sure thing in the second unit seems to be Novak’s three-point shooting, as 633 of his 767 field goal attempts over the last two seasons have come from behind the arc, where he’s converted at a 44.5 per cent clip during that time and 43.3 per cent over his seven-year career.

Having raised those questions however, the bench appears to be balanced if nothing else. Augustin can distribute (and shoot threes), Ross and Fields can run and defend at the wings, Novak can spread the floor and Hansbrough can provide excellent interior defence while keeping possessions alive for the shooters on the team with his offensive rebounding, while Buycks, Acy and Gray can each fill a role towards the end of the bench.

So what does that mix of talent get you in the changing Eastern Conference?

The East seems to have three five-team tiers right now. The Heat, Bulls, Pacers, Nets and Knicks should be safe bets for the playoffs. The 76ers, Celtics, Bucks, Bobcats and Magic should be pretty safe bets for the lottery, and the Raptors, Cavs, Wizards, Pistons and Hawks should slide somewhere in the middle, filling the holes from 6th place to 10th place.

In recent years, the Raptors have gone into the season needing a lot to break right for them just to even get in the post-season hunt. This season, if things stay relatively quiet in the East over the next couple of months, they can be a playoff team by just having their starters play up to their potential and having the second unit players each fill their modest roles. It’s really not asking that much, and if the Knicks succumb to their vulnerabilities, (because trust me, they’re vulnerable), then one of those middle-tier teams in the East can suddenly find themselves in a race for fifth.

Whether entering the season as a 6-to-10 team is good for the long-term outlook of the franchise is a debate we can save for another day (though finishing 6th to 8th is a lot easier to stomach for a young team trending upwards than it is for an older team reaching the end of its rope). For now all we can do is analyze the team in front of us, and 6-to-10 seems to be the most realistic landing spot for that team.

(Editor’s note: I’ll be away for a week so I doubt there will be any content here for the next seven days or so. In the event something does happen worth writing about while I’m away however, Oliver or Devang Desai will cover the news angle and I’ll chime in with my thoughts when I’m back next weekend.)

Comments (23)

  1. sums up my feelings exactly.

    PS- Pelicans*****

    • Yeah! The Cans suck.

      I don’t want to play the Cavs, Detroit, Washington or Atlanta in the first 20 games of the season. AFTER 20 games go by, we will know if we should be trying hard or tanking against these swing teams. We can still expect to lose games vs the top 5 and beat the bottom 5 teams. Any shot at a high lottery pick should be determined by how well we compete against the top dozen teams in the league. Personally, I’m hoping that is all we go up against in the first 20 games. If we come out of that with a 3-17 record, then trade Gay to one of the bottom feeders and tank hard. If we manage a winning record, then play hard and grab that 6th seed.

      It wouldn’t hurt to have most of the first 20 games on the road as well.

      I wonder if the league would help us out with a schedule like this. Considering how they always seem to screw the Raptors over with the schedule, I doubt it.

      • Some people would consider starting most of the first 20 games on the road against top teams getting screwed over.

  2. Unless the starters blow the lid off the competition, this team will suffer due to lack of bench. Starters are fantastic for the playoffs, but you need depth for the regular season especially when you have a team that’s more spread-out/balanced.

    • Fields will be much better than last season and will be a valuable part of this team, Novac will spread the floor and give us much needed 3 point shooting, Augustin and Byucks will fight each other AND Lowry for minutes, Ross should be better in his second year, same with Acy, Hansborough is the first big off the bench and a great addition IMO, and Gray will bruise it out with the big boys. Ya, you’re right, shitty bench.

  3. Despite adding Gay and JV’s continued improvement I think our success still hinges on Lowry. As much as I’d prefer a traditional pass-first PG, he needs to get back into a score-first, pass second mentality. In my opinion, he’s still the best pure scorer on the team. He’s an efficient shooter and a great slasher/disher/finisher at the rim.

    If he plays too passively, I doubt we’ll make the playoffs.

    • I think Lowry can find a balance, be sort of like D-Rose. I wouldn’t consider rose a pass first PG but he averages a pretty nice amount of assists. Similar to that Lowry can do the same. He’ll need to score first but he can still get enough dimes and even rebounds to affect the game in other ways too.

  4. First off, enjoy your well-deserved break, Joseph! Thanks again for all the insightful commentary.

    I’m conflicted between natural fan optimism and the realization that every offseason for Toronto fans is filled with an “if everything goes right” forecast that seems to give us all a sense of hope that the following season often reveals was unwarranted. Everything never goes right. There will be injuries, there will be underachievers, there will be team synergy challenges, there will be fans calling for the coach’s head or the trading of player X.

    I like this team – I like the work ethic, pride, and character of most of the guys on the roster, but I’m skeptical that next season will be much different than last year.

    Re: the internal development of youth – several other Eastern conference teams are laying claim to the same thing, arguably with more talented players (esp. Cavs and Wizards). It’s going to be a challenge for this team to move up the standings.

    • So we’re the only team in the NBA that needs to avoid injuries and drama? Take 3 or 4 of the top ten teams in the East (other than us), and let’s say they get hit hard with injuries. Suddenly our chances don’t look so bad. What if? What if? What if? Joseph analyzed it for what it is. You can only make predictions based on the info you have.

    • @SR
      Here’s why the Raptors will be MUCH better this year…. Bargnani and Calderon are gone. When you’re trying to build a defensive identity, you can’t have both these guys on your team. This is now Kyle Lowry’s team. I’ll guarantee you that he was not happy sharing minutes with Jose last year. This is a contract year for him. He the skill set to be a top ten pg in this league, he has a lot to prove, and he has the perfect scenario here for him to breakout and be successful. Playing alongside his best friend all year might motivate him as well. (it won’t hurt, that’s for sure) A full year (hopefully) with Rudy Gay makes us a .500 team at the very least. He’s clutch and can be a game breaker, and I’m willing to bet that he returns to form this year. Demar Derozan has added range to his jumper, he’s hungry, and once again this year he will improve. Amir Johnson is only 26 years old, and try and tell me he won’t play the best basketball of his career this year. Hansborough and Fields will are great energy players coming of the bench. Novac will hit three’s all day long. Ross has shown flashes of what he can bring to the table…the kid’s only going to get better. John Lucas and AA we’re chuckers….Ujiri has gotten rid of all the driftwood. Coach Casey has the respect of his players, and a great coaching staff to work with.

      Now the biggest reason why the team will be better? You guessed it, Jonas Christ Superstar. Our offence now goes through the big man. Demar and Gay are going to have big years because of this. JV is going to break out this year and y’all know it.

      It almost seems as if you guys hate the team we currently have because BC built it.

  5. In my opinion, the raptors definitely have a roster good enough to take on the East. Adding Hansbrough and Agustin certainly bolsters their rosters for sure. both are capable of starting on any NBA team and might even give both Amir and Kyle a run for their money at their starting positions as well. I see the Raptors winning at l;east 45 games. Anyone willing to take a gentlemanly wager on that?

    • Hansborough and Augustin are good additions, but they are not starters. I will say one thing though… I like your optimism! We need more guys like you on here.

      • DJ and Tyler are additions by subtraction.

        Getting the ball out of the hands of AA and Lucas will get the more efficient shooters more touches. JV was our most efficient scorer last season. I hope he doubles his shot attempts next season. If DD and Gay are getting the same amount of shots, they had better be the shots that AA and JL were taking because Kyle and JV really need to be shooting more for this team to make the playoffs.

    • No gentlemans wager. I’ll put up money that they win less than 45 games.

      I’m willing to have a 3rd party hold this money until results are determined.

      I am patient and can wait to collect my ends, especially when it’s a sure thing.

    • Augustin will not give Kyle a run for his money. You’re getting closer with Hansborough, though only very slightly.

  6. Everyone is missing the key point to this season…….

    No Bargnani = better team

    The offence won’t be centered around him and that pilon on defence wont hinder us. I don’t even think the Knicks will be ahead of us in the standings.

    • You’ve got that right. No Bargs = no black hole and less chucking.

      I sure hope DD has added range, and has been working on his passing this summer.

      Rudy, I sure hope you got your three ball back with the operation.

      TRoss, I sure hope you realize you need to take it to the rim more this season. At least until your three ball becomes a threat.

      FIelds, … more funny videos please. (and fingers crossed you found your shot this summer)

  7. Isn’t Landry Fields more of a forward than a wing?

  8. Hey Joseph, how about the idea of using Gay as a Pippen type point forward when Lowry’s not on the floor. He’d have to pay attention more that way, and he’d get to the line a ton.

  9. I don’t care what anyone says, I’m really excited for the team this year even if they just make playoffs.

    No Bargnani or Anderson (as much as I respect AA and his experiences, he was very frustrating last year).

    I am, however, expecting improvements in Gay and DeRozans 3pt%. Hopefully Fields was able to get some shooting back too.

  10. Raptors sign Austin Daye to a 2-year deal worth $2 million.

    Another depth signing for the bench. Ujiri has scrounged together a pretty intriguing bench (Novak, Augustine, Hansbrough, Daye, Buycks, etc.) for peanuts.

  11. he Raptors finished 16th in scoring during the 2012 – 2013 season which means they know how to put the ball in the basket. The addition of Tyler Hansbrough adds a level of toughness, interior defense, and rebounding – all of which the Raptors were in desperate need of a year prior –

    See more at: http://sportsunbiased.com/nba/12140/2014-nba-eastern-conference-playoff-predictions-battle-for-positions-6-8/#sthash.wjIj4qQX.dpuf

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