With five of eight pre-season games in the books, here are a few thoughts and observations on the Raptors…
- Two of the bigger questions heading into Toronto’s training camp and exhibition schedule were who will be Lowry’s primary backup and who out of Julyan Stone, Chris Wright and Carlos Morais would crack the 15-man roster? Well between the exceptionally poor play of D.J. Augustin and to a lesser extent Dwight Buycks, Stone may provide an answer to both questions. If Augustin and Buycks continue to disappoint, Stone should emerge as the 15th man out of necessity, and from what we’ve seen from him in limited time so far, he may just prove to be the man for the backup job after all.
Remember, that was the plan not too long ago.
Before training camp started, I wrote that while Stone’s defence was sure to entice Dwane Casey, he would be hard pressed to make the team since carrying four point guards seemed unlikely and unnecessary. A couple of weeks later, thanks to Augustin especially, it seems more likely and completely necessary.
- The starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas has looked solid. The unit is scoring more efficiently with DeRozan and Gay getting to the free throw line, and while far from a finished product, has generally been good defensively. Other than playing them heavier minutes in perhaps one more game, the remaining three games for the starters should be used merely to keep them healthy and fresh.
- Terrence Ross, Tyler Hansbrough, Steve Novak and Landry Fields should be regulars in Casey’s rotation. You know what you are going to get on a nightly basis from Hansbrough and Novak, and while Ross and Fields have both been up and down through five pre-season games, both bring things to the table that the second unit will need (slashing, athleticism and scoring from Ross – defence, smarts and space-creating movement from Fields).
- Quincy Acy has provided a spark each time he’s entered a game and he’ll surely find some spot minutes here and there this season depending on matchups, but he’ll have to cut down on his foul rate (10 fouls in 45 minutes) if he wants a chance to crack a more consistent rotation. Overall though, it’s hard not to like what you see from Acy.
- As we’re all aware, Aaron Gray is going to do what he does as the team’s fourth big man on most nights. There’s really not much to say here.
- Austin Daye has made some threes and has committed a ton of fouls, displaying the type of confounding play fans in Detroit and Memphis probably know all too well. Barring injuries, trades or a desperate need for three-point shooting, it’s tough to see Daye finding many minutes this season.
- If there’s been one glaring concern through five games, outside of the obvious backup point guard question, it’s the fact that the Raptors have turned the ball over a ridiculous 109 times, turning it over at least 21 times in four out of their five games and an average of about 22 times per game. For perspective, Houston committed the most turnovers per game last season with just 15.8 and no team has committed more than 18 per game in over 10 years. You can look at those numbers as evidence that turning it over this frequently is unsustainable and just a pre-season trend, but nevertheless, it hasn’t been pretty.
- For what it’s worth, Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE system projects the Raptors to make the playoffs, finishing tied with the Knicks for second place in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the East. Unfortunately, SCHOENE also projects just 37 wins for Toronto.
I haven’t laid down an official prediction yet other than to say that the Raptors will finish somewhere in the East’s 6-10 range, and I do agree that the Knicks are primed for a major setback (though maybe not 37-45 major), but with some of the improvements around the East, I just can’t see a team squeaking into the playoffs with 37 wins in 2014.
- My general thoughts after five games haven’t changed much. I think this team features a playoff caliber starting lineup with high defensive upside, some intriguing and useful bench pieces, but no reliable backup point guard to consistently piece the second unit together. Here’s hoping either one of Stone or Buycks emerges, or Augustin regains even somewhat serviceable form.