Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Season Preview
2013-14 Record: 48-34, No. 1 in Atlantic Division, No. 3 in Eastern Conference
Roster additions: Bruno Caboclo (rookie, No. 20), Jordan Hamilton, James Johnson, Greg Stiemsma, Louis Williams
Roster subtractions: D.J. Augustin, Austin Daye, Nando De Colo, Aaron Gray, Steve Novak, John Salmons, Julyan Stone
SB Nation affiliate: RaptorsHQ
Blazer's Edge: The buzz last year with some NBA fans around the All-Star break was that Kyle Lowry was probably more deserving of a spot in the All-Star game than the Raptors' lone representative, DeMar Derozan. What's your take on this? Which player is more important in Toronto?
Christopher Walder: There's no question that DeMar DeRozan earned his All-Star nomination, yet fans seemed to focus their attention more so on Kyle Lowry's snub than anything else.
Lowry took on more of a leadership role both on and off the court than his All-Star teammate, transitioning from a coach's headache to a coach's delight. His redemption story being cemented with the recognition of being an All-Star would have been the cherry on the sundae. Too bad it didn't come to fruition, though.
Considering Lowry is the starting point guard and has his hands all over what the Raptors do on offense, it's hard to dispute him not being the most important player on the roster. DeRozan is becoming more of a well-rounded player and throwing himself into the conversation of best shooting guards in the league, but even so, the Raptors go as far as Lowry takes them and not vice-versa.
With all due respect, of course.
BE: Last year Jonas Valunciunas averaged 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game as a second-year player. Do you see him taking another step forward and becoming a bigger part of the national NBA consciousness?
CW: We're slowly but surely reaching that point where Jonas Valanciunas becomes a household name around NBA circles. I think his experience this summer in the FIBA World Cup turned a lot of heads, especially those who weren't as familiar with his game.
I would love to see Casey put more of an emphasis on feeding Valanciunas under the basket and letting him work his magic. The 22-year-old has a polished offensive game that doesn't get the spotlight shined on it nearly enough.
A trust between coach and player is still being put in place between the two parties. Valanciunas has shown a tendency to pick up quick fouls early in games, frustrating Casey to no end. With little depth behind him at center, it will be important for Valanciunas to remain on the floor and stay out of foul trouble. His 249 personal fouls were 10th-highest in the NBA, per ESPN.com.
BE: How do you expect the frontcourt rotation to go for coach Dwane Casey? Several players up front look worthy of minutes. Who's the odd man out?
CW: Well don't hold your breath if you're expecting to see Bruno Caboclo, the No. 20 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, get a steady load of minutes from Dwane Casey. He currently sits fourth on the depth chart at small forward behind Terrence Ross, Landry Fields and James Johnson, all of whom will be a regular part of Casey's rotation.
Fans are intrigued by the raw potential Caboclo has, yet it's still going to take a great deal of work to get his body where it needs to be and his basketball skills at an NBA-appropriate level. It's not going to take three or four years like Fran Fraschilla alluded to on draft night, but it's not going to happen overnight either.
Casey isn't going to steer away from what brought him to the dance. Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Valanciunas will remain at the forefront with Patrick Patterson being first off the pine. Tyler Hansbrough and Chuck Hayes gives Casey defensive options in the second unit, although neither man can be counted on to score. Johnson provides insurance should Ross hit a wall in his continued development and growth.
BE: The Raptors grabbed the third seed of the Eastern Conference playoffs last year but lost in the first round to the Brooklyn Nets. Is the second round of the playoffs the benchmark for Toronto this year? I'd be shocked if they didn't win the Atlantic Division again.
CW: Taking an experienced Brooklyn Nets squad to seven games in the first round of the playoffs was just a taste of what this Raptors team can accomplish. If they were to meet a similar fate in 2014-15, it would be looked at as a major disappointment.
The franchise has one postseason series victory under the belt, so you'll gladly take a second round appearance and run with it. This just goes to show the kind of hype surrounding the Raptors this season; when anything less than the second round is looked at as a failure, you know you're heading in the right direction.
BE: Give us your best case, worst case and most likely scenarios for the Raptors 2014-15 season:
CW: Best-case scenario: 55-27, second in Eastern Conference and a second-straight Atlantic Division title.
Worst-case scenario: 44-38, failure to land home-court advantage and repeat as Atlantic Division champions.
With LeBron James returning home to Cleveland and Indiana having to deal with a slew of injuries/key departures, the East hasn't been this wide-open since before the "Big Three" era in South Beach.
Avoiding injuries will be key. DeRozan, Lowry, Johnson, Valanciunas and Ross (starting lineup) missed a combined 13 games last season. Maintaining that relatively clean bill of health would be most welcome once again, but it's hard to think the Raptors will experience that kind of good fortune for another year.
Pencil in the Raptors for another Atlantic Division title with the Celtics and 76ers looking towards the future and several question marks surrounding the Knicks and Nets. A 50-win season and playoff series victory should suffice.
Special thanks to RaptorsHQ contributor Christopher Walder for taking the time to discuss the Toronto Raptors' upcoming season with Blazer's Edge. He can be found on twitter @WalderSports26. RaptorsHQ has you covered for Raptors news and analysis.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter