The 2016-17 season should be considered a successful one by most Raptors fans. For only the third time in franchise history, they made it out of the first round of the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were once again named All-Stars and they acquired Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic. Looking at all of this objectively, most would consider this a successful season. But because of the way in which they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, it is not uncommon to come across a fan who was disappointed.
Countdown to NBA Tip-Off: Toronto Raptors Season Preview
What Worked Last Season
Toronto survived off of their superstar duo and isolation offense. With arguably one of the best back-court duos in the NBA, both Lowry and DeRozan had career highs in points per game at 22.4 and 27.3 respectively. What makes this controversial offense effective is both players being safe with the ball in their hands. Toronto only averaged 12 turnovers per game, fourth best in the NBA. Dwane Casey allows his two guards to run isolation or pick and roll and break down the defense to find shooters or Jonas Valanciunas rolling to the rim. With athletes like Norman Powell and Delon Wright getting out in transition, Toronto’s role players were deadliest in the open floor. Because of their stagnant offensive scheme, the more this team gets out in transition the better this team will be.
What Needs Improvement
Last season, Toronto was 23rd in three point scoring and only shot 35% from three as a team. This was an issue, especially in the playoffs where teams could play off the likes of DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson. It is clear DeRozan will never be a three-point shooter and that he has embraced the mid-range game. Toronto will need to improve their three-point offense if they want to take the next step.
Changes from Last Season
The departure of Carroll and Patterson will improve this team. Nothing made Raptors fans pull their hair out more than watching Carroll brick a pull-up three in transition. Carroll will be replaced with C.J. Miles, who is a dead-eye shooter and will be able to play small-ball power forward. The loss of Patterson will limit their defensive versatility, but a full season of Ibaka can cover up any holes the departure of Patterson will create.
There will also be expectations for sophomores Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam, who will take on bigger roles within the team and will need to add depth. While both performed well during their limited minutes for Toronto last year, there is a chance they are regular contributors this season. Both showed glimpses of being terrific defenders, but will have to show they improved on offense.
There is no doubt this team is better than the one it fielded in the first game of the 2016-17 season. There is more shooting around DeRozan than ever, which should open up the driving lanes for him. Do not be surprised if he has a career year in scoring. There is more depth than in previous years, so look for Lowry to become more of a pass-first point guard in order to rest up for the playoffs. Powell recently inked a contract extension and has a chance to challenge for the sixth man of the year award.
As far as team expectations, it is difficult to ascertain how they will do in the playoffs. Cleveland has added a number of big name players who are past their prime. Boston improved with the additions of Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. But, not be surprised if the Eastern Conference Finals has a matchup between the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors.