With the NBA Season only two weeks away, the Hardwood Houdini staff is bringing you another season preview. The team up for today: The Toronto Raptors. Here’s what the Houdini staff thinks:
1. How will Rudy Gay’s eye procedure affect his production this season? Will it at all?
Michael Sykes: I’m not sure if it’ll help the Toronto Raptors at all. Rudy Gay’s biggest issue has always been his shot selection. He takes a lot of long two shots and doesn’t get to the rim as much as you’d like. His limits as a creator affect him more than anything else and he’s just not a very good jump shooter anymore.
Trey Adell: I’m not a medical expert but I’m sure the improved vision may help his shot. His form isn’t deeply flawed and his career worst shooting last season may have been an aberration. To be honest I’m not completely sure but I think Rudy does have a better year in terms of percentages.
Mark Puleo: Eye surgery or not, I expect Gay’s shooting performance to improve this season, and thus, his overall production. The amount of work he has put in this offseason on the shot is bound to reap benefits.Unfortunately for the Raptors, there’s no surgery to correct his terrible shot selection. But actually being able to see the basket should greatly improve his production, coupled with another year of familiarity in Toronto and in coach Dwane Casey’s system.
2 .How much will Jonas Valanciunas improve this season?
MS: I look for a big improvement in Valanciunas this season. He was decent defensively last year without truly grasping the Toronto Raptors’ scheme. Now, with a year under his belt, he should be able to understand defensive angles better and will be much more prepared this year.
TA: I think getting more time on the court and being more of a focal point in the offense might help accelerate his improvement. For all rookies grasping the concepts of an NBA defensive scheme is one of the more drastic changes from their amateur playing days so I suspect furthering his knowledge in that department will only help his cause. Valanciunas is an extremely talented young big who I think will be a huge contributor for Toronto this season.
MP: I expect big things out of Jonas this coming season. Another year of NBA familiarity and a bump up of minutes should signal big improvments. His rookie stats closely mirrored those of Joakim Noah when Noah broke into the league. By the time Noah was averaging 30 minutes per game, he was averaging a double-double. If Valanciunas can prove to Casey that he deserves 30 mpg, we could see similar results.
3. Can Kyle Lowry be the starting point guard for this team going forward if they want to make the playoffs?
MS: The biggest thing for Kyle Lowry is staying healthy. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a very well-rounded guard who can score, rebound and defend. He’s one of the better point guards in the league at the top of his game and having him on board in good health will certainly help.
TA: I’m a big fan of Kyle Lowry and I really do think that this team could make the playoffs with him leading the charge. He’s a solid defender with good vision and instincts.
MP: Yes…ish. If the Kyle Lowry from Houston returns, then Toronto is in great shape at the point gaurd position. In his first season above the border, Lowry saw a dip in I minutes per game, shooting percentage, three point percentage, free throw percentage, assists per game, and points per game. If Lowry can return to the stats of the Houston days, I think the Toronto Raptors could sneak into the playoffs.
4. How do you think Demar Derozan will play this season?
MS: I think that Derozan could have a breakout season this year. He’s pretty much improved in most aspects of his game since his rookie year–even if that improvement was minimal. I expect him to be a better shooter this year after having another offseason to improve on that skill. Hopefully, if he has improved, he can be more of a focal point on the offensive end.
TA: I’m not and overly optimistic Derozan fan. He’s an athletic, below average shooter whose defense isn’t the greatest. It’s already his 4th season and the possibility for improvement is still there but it’s hard to see him shaking the mold he’s already created for himself.
MP: I expect Derozan to rise to the occasion this season, as the Toronto Raptors make a push for one of those last spots in the playoffs. The last three months of 2012-2013 proved that Gay and Derozan could play well together, as neither of them saw a huge dropoff in stats when they combined forces. Obviously Derozan’s outside game needs work, but teams won’t be able to completely shut off his slashes to the basket when they have to focus on Gay doing the same thing. I expect Derozan to make continued small steps forward this year.
5. Will Tyler Hansbrough be a quality player for the Raptors this season?
MS: Tyler Hansbrough won’t have too much of an impact. He isn’t going to play that much for the Toronto Raptors and when he does he’ll only give them a bunch of quick fouls. I’ve never really been a fan and didn’t really understand this pickup when they made it. The Pacers were the ideal situation for him.
TA: “Quality Player” and Tyler Hansbrough just aren’t two phrases that go together in a sentence very well. He’s an energy big or enforcer who make some hustle, doesn’t do much else.
MP: I don’t see Hansbrough playing much of a big role in Toronto. In Indiana, his role was best defined as bruiser. The only problem with that is that Toronto already has Aaron Gray for that role. With Valanciunas, Gray, Amir Johnson, Hansborough, and Quincy Acy all vying for time in the post positions, I don’t see Hansborough getting enough run to qualify as a ‘quality player’.
6. How do you see the Raptors season playing out?
MS: I see the Toronto Raptors fighting for the 8th seed in the playoffs. I would say that there is a 60% chance that they get it. They’ve got a really good defensive system in place and if Kyle Lowry can be productive he’ll be a big part of the reason why they make the playoffs.
TA: I’m probably a little high on the Toronto but I can see them fighting with the Cavs and Wizards for the 8th seed. Chances are that they end up with the 9th or 10th seed but I really wouldn’t be surprised if they clinched a playoff spot this season.
MP: I see the Bargaini trade working out for the Raptors similarly to the way the Gay trade worked out for the Grizzlies (funny how that goes) with the Raptors seeing addition by subtraction. With the court more open for Gay and Derozan, their stats should see a spike. The subtraction of Bargaini should also greatly improve the team’s defensive efficiency. Valanciunas’s improvment will lead to big things for Toronto, but I think the whole season hinges on Lowry. If he can regain the form of 2011-2012, the Raptors could certainly make the playoffs as an eight or seven seed. If he struggles, this could be a season if big changes in Toronto.