Following a disappointing 23–43 campaign and their fourth consecutive season without a playoffs run, the pressure on the Raptors to improve and compete for the playoffs is high.
On the offensive end, the Raptors have a lot of work to do to become a legitimate playoffs contender. Last season the Raptors averaged 90.7 points per game, the third-lowest total in the NBA. Their hope is that coach Dwane Casey can better implement his offensive system with a full training camp and preseason schedule to iron out the wrinkles.
The Raptors have also made a number of key acquisitions in the off-season to improve their offence. Among them are point guards Kyle Lowry and John Lucas III and small forwards Landry Fields, Dominic McGuire, Allan Anderson, and Terrence Ross.
The expectation is that Kyle Lowry and veteran point guard Jose Calderon will form a dangerous one-two punch and provide Casey with the luxury of playing one starting-calibre point guard at all times. Fields, McGuire, and Anderson are expected to rotate at the small forward position and provide defensive flexibility. Ross and Lucas III don’t figure to play a significant role initially, but they’re both capable of scoring off the bench and spot-starting in the event of injury.
The Raptors will also welcome Jonas Valančiūnas, a top prospect in 2011, to the squad. The Lithuanian centre comes highly regarded; it was rumoured that if he had been eligible, he would have been the second-best prospect in 2012 by general consensus, behind Anthony Davis. If Valančiūnas’ play overseas is any indication, the Raptors are in for a treat. The young centre has already won the 2008 FIBA Under 16 MVP, the 2010 FIBA Under 18 MVP, the 2011 FIBA Under 19 MVP, and the 2011 FIBA Young Player of the Year. Suffice it to say that expectations are high; by all accounts, Valančiūnas is the most talented centre prospect the Raptors have ever drafted.
Expectations are also high on the defensive end. Under Casey, the Raptors limited opponents to 94.0 points per game (tied for ninth-best in the NBA), a significant improvement over the 2011 squad, who surrendered 105.4 points per game.
The fans’ expectations of the Raptors this season are mixed. “The Raptors are improved over last year on paper, but so are a lot of other teams,” said Saif El-Aboudi, a third-year economics student. “Realistically, they will be battling to stay near .500 all season.”
Fazle Rablee, a fourth-year science major, offered a more optimistic outlook. “The defence was much improved last season, and with a full training camp, I expect the offence to improve with it,” he said. “The real test will be the first 22 games of the season, in which the Raptors play 15 games on the road.”
Rablee continued, “If the Raptors can hover around .500 through that span, it will be clear sailing the rest of the way, and they should make the playoffs.”