2016-17 Toronto Raptors Season Preview: Free Jonas!

The Dunkyard’s NBA season preview continues with the Toronto Raptors.

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 56-26 (2nd East)
  • Offensive rating: 107.0 (5th)
  • Defensive rating: 102.7 (11th)
  • Pace: 95.3 (29th)
  • True shooting: 55.2% (7th)
  • Turnover rate: 12.3% (6th)
  • Offensive rebounding: 24.6% (12th)
  • Defensive rebounding: 77.7% (7th)
  • Giveashitameter: 4th
  • Highest PER*: 22.6 (Valanciunas)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

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Recap

While some other teams were parading more notable ‘big threes’, the Raptors had a pretty damn good one of their own in Lowry (22.2 PER), DeRozan (21.5) and Valanciunas (22.6).

It is at this point I have to admit that I never thought DeRozan would ever get to this level. While he still struggled with his three point shooting (33.8%), it was significantly improved on his career mark of 28.3%. On top of this, he was able to get to the foul line an incredible 653 times where he shot 85.0%. All the free throws bumped his true shooting rate up to 55.0% (compared to his career mark of 52.9%) and partially offset his Ron Mercer-like penchant for taking long twos. When combined with his impressive usage rate of 28.5% (3rd among shooting guards), the end product was a career-high PER and a clear-cut All-star.

On offense, the most interesting thing about the Raptors was the glacial pace at which they played. To the casual observer, it would have seemed like the Raptors were defensively focused (3rd in points allowed per game) and not particularly good on offense (14th in points per game at 102.7). However, the reality was the exact opposite: their offense was very close to elite, ranking 5th overall in points per possession and the defense was merely good, but not great (11th).

A big driver of the Raptors’ efficient offense was their ability to get to the line, where they ranked 2nd in FTA/FGA. In addition to DeRozan, Lowry (491 free throw attempts) was great, while Biyombo was surprisingly effective (226) – getting to the line pretty much on par with Valanciunas (213).

Elsewhere, the Raptors were deadly behind the arc (37.0%, ranked 5th) with Lowry, Ross, Patterson, Scola and Powell all causing headaches for opponents. However, they were iffy on two point shots, ranking 18th. A big reason for this was DeRozan, who took an incredible 24.7% of his shots between 16 feet and the three point line and hit them at a lacklustre 35.9%. Both he and the Raptors would have been much better off if he shot a lot more from behind the arc and netted the extra point at almost the same hit rate (33.8%).

As stated above, the Raptors’ were overrated on the defensive end. The biggest cause for concern was the perimeter, where the Raptors ranked an abysmal 29th in three point accuracy allowed (37.3%). Not helping things was the fact that Carroll was injured for all but 26 games. However, Lowry and DeRozan clearly didn’t do enough to hold up their end of the bargain. The defensive stats for DeRozan were particularly suspect as he ranked dead last on the team for defensive rating and 3rd last in defensive box plus/minus (ahead of only Bennett and Ross) – albeit he was a solid 4th in defensive win shares.

The Raptors fared better on the inside, where they ranked 5th in two point accuracy allowed, 10th on FTA/FGA allowed and 7th on defensive rebounding. Valanciunas and Biyombo were unsurprisingly the main contributors here, ranking highly on all the advanced defensive metrics and, just as importantly – the eye test.

The last important thing to note was Valanciunas’ playing time. Why the hell wasn’t he playing more? For a guy of his abilities, 26.0 minutes per night is nowhere near enough. If the Raptors want to take things to the next level, they’ll need to feed the beast some more minutes.

Reasons to be optimistic

Valanciunas signed an extension last year for four years and $64 million. With three seasons left at about $16-$17 million per and the league’s increased salary cap, this contract is an absolute bargain that will keep giving for the Raptors over the coming seasons.

Carroll is now back and, if he can stay healthy, the Raptors will have someone who can make a huge impact on the team’s biggest weakness – perimeter defense.

Two years ago, Bruno Caboclo was two years away from being two years away. Two years on, he might now only be two years away. Hooray!

Reasons not to be

You can’t help the feeling that last season was about as good as it’s going to get for the Raptors. In other words, nowhere near good enough to beat LeBron unless serious injuries play a part.

While his playoff performance made him overrated (playoff PER 15.9), Biyombo was still a solid player (regular season PER 14.9) and will be missed. Although Sullinger represents an upgrade on offense, this isn’t an area where the Raptors needed the extra help. Their defense ranked 11th last season and they’ve now lost arguably their best defender. There’s a whole lot of weight resting on Valanciunas to hold the fort… assuming he’s allowed to play.

Major Ins 

Jared Sullinger, Jakob Poeltl.

Major Outs 

Bismack Biyombo.

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Lowry
  • DeRozan
  • Carroll
  • Sullinger
  • Valanciunas

Dave’s lowdown

Despite 56 wins last season I still find it difficult to believe in this team. While both Lowry and DeRozan enjoyed career years, I fear one or both may be set for a decline, especially DeRozan who continues to think it’s a good idea to attempt 50% of his shots in the mid-range abyss that lies between 9-22 feet.

Along with Carroll’s injury history and Coach Casey’s undiagnosed Asperger syndrome which affects his ability to play Valanciunas more than 26 minutes per game, I can’t see this team reaching the heights of season 2015-16. The Raptors look set to join the ranks of other notable Canadians including Michael Buble, Brendon Fraser, Nelly Furtado and Rick Moranis – sure they appear to be successful but does anybody really take them seriously?

Forecast record: 53-29

Make no mistake, this is a very solid team and 50 wins appears to be the low water mark. The problem is how to contend with the likes of Cleveland dominating and Boston starting to yap at their heels. That said, you just never know how these things can pan out and the Raptors have a very solid ticket in the draw.

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