It’s been four long years since the Toronto Raptors qualified for the NBA postseason. They say this year will be different and there are some things to be optimistic about, but Raps supporters have been down this road before. They’ll want to see major changes on the court after the club saw a major facelift last offseason.
Getting on the Same Page
When the Raptors open the regular season Wednesday at home to Indiana, they’ll have seven new names on the roster – three of which are likely to start. That’s a lot of turnover for any team to deal with, though there is some upside. Kyle Lowry looks like he’ll be the heartbeat of this club running the point and DeMar DeRozan was great posting up and backing defenders down in the preseason. “DeMar’s one of the most talented wings in the league and he’s learning every day to be efficient,” head coach Dwane Casey told reporters. “He understands that, he’s getting to the foul line, doing what we ask him to do, going in the low post.” Meanwhile, rookie centre Jonas Valanciunas may be ready for a bigger role sooner than expected. All three of Toronto’s new starters will have to get on the same page quickly with a difficult schedule out of the gate.
Making a Statement
Last year nobody expected the Raptors to contend. Valanciunas was being groomed in Lithuania and Andrea Bargnani’s injury left them without any sort of a dependable scoring threat. Casey didn’t have much to work with and the team predictably suffered. This time around, there’s a lot more pressure on Casey and his players to succeed. Casey helped the Raptors move from No. 30 in points allowed to No. 14 last year, but is far from satisfied yet.
“We’re still trying to sell the defensively mentality, the defensive approach . . . the pace of play,” Casey told reporters last week. “We’re still trying to get that in. As a coach, I’m never satisfied and won’t be satisfied and can’t be satisfied,” he added. “I can’t allow our guys to get that mindset of: Hey, we’re okay. We’re just waiting for the regular season.” If Casey can get his players to buy into the defence-first mindset, they might have a shot at competing for one of the final playoff spots in the East. Toronto will still need to stay healthy and get big numbers from the newcomers but this could be an exciting group. To that end, they’re a lot further ahead of where they were last year.