2015-2016 NBA Atlantic Division Preview: Toronto Raptors

Of the six divisions that make up NBA, the 2014-15 Atlantic Division was by far the worst of them all. With every team failing to reach 50 wins and with two teams finishing in the bottom three of the whole NBA, it is safe to say that the Atlantic Division was horrendous. Here’s a look at how the division ranks ended up last season:

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Moving into the 2015-16 season, the outlook seems to be very similar to how it did last year. But don’t be surprised if there is a three way race for the division between Boston, Toronto and maybe even New York.

I am going to release a preview for one team in the division each day before the Celtics tip-off on October 28th.

For our first preview, we are going to start north of the border and take a look at the Toronto Raptors.

Let’s look at the teams starting lineup and bench as the season is set to tip-off this week.

Toronto Raptors

2014-15: 49-33, 4th in Eastern Conference

Coach: Dwane Casey

Major Losses: Amir Johnson (FA Signed With Celtics), Lou Williams (FA Signed with Lakers), Grevis Vasquez (Traded to Bucks)

Key Additions: DeMarre Carroll (FA signing), Cory Joseph (FA signing), Luis Scola (FA Signing) Bismack Biyombo (FA signing), Delon Wright (1st round draft choice).

The Toronto Raptors have now won the Atlantic Division two years in a row (back to back), much to the pleasure of Toronto superfan and Toronto Raptors Ambassador, Drake.

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drakeFinishing the last two seasons with 48 and 49 years, respectively, the Raptors have been at the top of the division, even though there is no real superstar on the team. The Raptors had a quiet summer overall, saving money and preparing for this upcoming season with the possible needs to resign DeRozan and other top free agents.

The Starting Five

The closest player to a superstar on the team is Kyle Lowry. A major piece of this Toronto team, Lowry was the lone Raptor named to the All Star game last year, tallying 17.8 PPG, 6.8 APG, and 4.7 RPG while leading the team in steals and assists. Lowry really struggled as the Raptors got swept by the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs; however, Lowry was the teams’ top scorer throughout the preseason this year. If Lowry can stay balanced in scoring and distributing, you can expect another all star year from the 29-year-old.

Alongside Lowry in the backcourt is the teams leading scorer DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan, Toronto’s longest tenured player entering his seventh year in “the 6″, lead the team last year with 20.1 PPG and 35.0 MPG. The 26-year-old, 6′ 7” SG who missed 22 games with a torn groin tendon last season, finished out the season earning Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for the month of April while averaging 24.1 PPG and added 4.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds. The team will be looking for DeRozan to put up more of these numbers throughout this season, especially with the teams decision to allow Sixth Man of The Year Award winner Lou Williams to walk away and sign with the Lakers. It will be on DeRozan to begin to take the next step in his career and fully take over this squad and lead the Raptor’s to a possible division title, especially in the last year of his contract.

DeMarre Carroll, who signed over this summer for a four-year, $60 million deal, will be opposite DeRozan on the other wing. Carroll, who only made $2 million last year and averaged 12.6 PPG and 5.3 APG as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, was able to bring in the bigger contract this summer with his never-quit mentality and being the physical presence that Toronto so desperately needs. Carroll is versatile on the defensive side of the ball, being able defend anyone but the opposing center. On the offensive side, Carroll hit a career high 49% of his shots and 40% of his 3PT attempts. He’s a highly adaptable player who can fit into any system.

In the front court, Toronto will run a rotation of big men. Without a doubt, at center will be the 7-foot Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas just signed a four year, $62 million contract extension to keep him in Toronto through the 2019 season when he has a player option. The “offensive force” down low, Valanciunas averaged 12.0 PPG and 8.7 RPG while shooting 57% from the field. Many Raptors fans are still waiting for the breakout year that they have been expecting out of the big man, so it will be an important this year for Valanciunas to show that he was worth the contract extension.

Patrick Patterson is listed as the starting power forward as we enter the season, but this may change as the season movers on. With the departure of Amir Johnson, Patterson, the former first round pick out of Kentucky, was the one that was expected to take over the starting job. However, throughout this postseason, Patterson has really struggled. In seven appearances and 19 minutes a game, Patterson was a complete non-factor, averaging just 3.0 points and 2.1 rebounds, with a single block and only three made three-pointers. He shot 27.6% from the field overall, and was 3-for-10 from three. Job’s can be won and lost in the preseason, and as of right now, Patterson might be on the losing end of that battle. Last season, the stretch four player average 8.0 PPG while pulling down 5.3 RPG in a very up-and-down season.

Off The Bench

The afore-mentioned Williams was the top player coming off the bench last year for Toronto, ranking second on the team tallying 12.9 PPG, the loss of Williams opens a huge void in the offensive output. This is where new addition Cory Joseph comes in. The 24-year-old point guard comes over from the San Antonio Spurs after having a good year last year, averaging 6.8 PPG behind Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, a smart and cost efficient pick up for the Raptors.

Another offseason addition bringing depth to the front court is veteran Luis Scola. The 35-year-old will be coming off the bench often to add some more scoring options down low, especially with the lack off offensive ability that Patterson showed last year.

Another bench player is the high flying Terrence Ross, the 2013 NBA Slam Dunk Contest winner, who lost his starting job with the addition of Carroll. Ross averaged 12.0 PPG last year and will be another option off the bench.

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Two other front court players coming off the bench include the 6′ 9″ Bismack Biyombo and former #1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett.

Lastly, in the 2015 NBA draft, the Raptors selected Delon Wright, a 23-year-old PG out of Utah, with the No. 20 pick in the first round. Wright is the prototypical point guard, coming out of college as a tremendous passer as well as a tremendous defender. Wright will add to the depth for the guards, coming off the bench behind Joseph.

Prediction

Toronto’s roster has not changed too drastically from last season, however, there could very well be a drop off in the offense. I expect a similar season out of the Raptors, especially if the starting five can stay healthy. Add one more to the win column, I have Toronto going 50-32 while contending for the division title.