With training camp commencing on October 1, the Toronto Raptors will now start putting in the work towards ending a postseason drought that has burdened the franchise for the past five seasons.
With five new players on the roster, Andrea Bargnani and Bryan Colangelo now a distant memory and reigning NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri calling the shots, there's certainly a lot to be optimistic about.
2012-13 Toronto Raptors Season Summary
- 34-48 record (.415)
- Tied for last place with Philadelphia 76ers in Atlantic Division
- 10th place in Eastern Conference
- Four games out of 8th and final playoff spot
Key Statistics: The Good and The Bad
One of the team's biggest strengths last season was their ability to maintain control of the basketball. The Raptors' 13.7 turnovers per game were third-lowest in the league. That number coincides with their 12th-best (tied with Orlando Magic) assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.63.
They also made the most of their attempts at the charity stripe, shooting 78.8 percent from the free-throw line, which was fifth overall.
The Raptors couldn't rebound to save their lives. They ranked 28th in rebounds per game (40.2), 26th in defensive rebounds (29.6) and 24th in offensive (10.6). Amir Johnson was the only player on the roster to average better than 7.0 boards at 7.5.
Their three-point shooting was also a major concern. The team only shot 34.3 percent (tied for 25th with the Denver Nuggets) from behind the arc. Attempting 20.3 shots from that part of the court, which was the 12th-highest n the NBA, didn't help matters either.
It's one thing to shoot from long range when you have a proven track record, but chucking up shots with little accuracy going around isn't the wisest decision to make.
*All numbers/statistics courtesy of stats.nba.com/teams.
Biggest Storylines Entering Training Camp
Is Rudy Gay the man to take the Raptors back to the NBA playoffs? For a majority of his career, Gay has been looked at as a fringe All-Star that would be a No. 2 or No. 3 option on a championship-quality roster.
What's new? That's been the case with this franchise for years. Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani are examples of two players who were given the go-ahead to lead this team, only to falter in the end. Gay has every opportunity in front of him to prove his doubters wrong. If the ship looks like it's about to sink, he could find himself on the way out sooner rather than later, insane contract or not.
Will the real Terrence Ross please stand up? His rookie season is better yet forgotten at this point. A majority of fans are ready to give up on the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, but that's too easy.
He struggled shooting the basketball (40.7 percent from the field) and his defense was close to non-existent, but there is still time to salvage things. He's far too athletic and far too motivated to keep this "early bust" label for much longer. It's going to take some work, but good things come to those who bust their tail. There's a world of untapped potential in Terrence Ross, and hopefully next season he gets a chance to show his stuff.
Key Additions and Losses
Key Additions: PF Tyler Hansbrough , SF Steve Novak, PG D.J. Augustin, PG Dwight Buycks, SG Austin Daye
Key Losses: PF Andrea Bargnani (traded to New York Knicks) , SF Linas Kleiza (amnestied), PG John Lucas III (signed with Utah Jazz), PG Sebastian Telfair, SG Alan Anderson (signed with Brooklyn Nets), SG Mickael Pietrus
Biggest Addition: Tyler Hansbrough
Tyler Hansbrough isn't going put the Raptors on his back and take over games by himself, but what he is going to do is help change the culture and bring his winning attitude to this team.
From his days as member of the North Carolina Tar Heels to his recent four-year stint with the Indiana Pacers, all Hansbrough has known throughout his basketball career is success. You can never have too many guys on your roster with that kind of background.
This past season, Hansbrough averaged 7.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in 16.9 minutes for the Pacers.
The Raptors didn't land themselves any major free agents in the open market, but sometimes it's the little, under-the-radar pickups that can make a world of difference.
"Psycho T" will attack the boards, defend the paint and score around the basket. Not bad for a guy playing under a cheap two-year deal worth roughly $6 million.
Biggest Loss: Andrea Bargnani
Trading away a former No. 1 overall pick is a big deal no matter which way you slice it. However, this was a move that was long overdue.
Bargnani had worn out his welcome in Toronto, as his injuries and mediocre play were rubbing many a fan the wrong way. The boo birds would come out in full force every time "Il Mago" was called into the game. Unless he made some sort of drastic turnaround overnight, Bargnani never really stood a chance.
Starting next season, this 7-footer out of Rome, Italy will find himself playing under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden as a member of the New York Knicks.
He still has some game left in him, it's just a matter of whether he can find the willpower inside of him to get it back up to par. If he can maintain a clean bill of health, he will undoubtedly help the Knicks in a lesser role. He won't offer much in terms of rebounding or defense, but men of his size who can shoot with significant range are hard to come by.
The Andrea Bargnani era in Toronto is over, and that's quite alright. It's just a shame things had to end the way they did.
Toronto Raptors 2013-14 Depth Chart
Training Camp Battle to Watch: D.J. Augustin vs. Dwight Buycks
Augustin is coming off a dreadful 2012-13 season with the Indiana Pacers, having averaged career-lows in minutes, points, field-goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals.
On the other hand, Buycks comes to the Raptors with zero NBA experience to his name. He had a terrific stint with Toronto's Las Vegas Summer League squad, averaging 23.0 points and 7.0 assists. It was a short stretch of games, but he still showed quite a bit of promise.
Now with the arrival of Augustin, Buycks falls down a notch in the pecking order of Raptors point guards, but that shouldn't be a death sentence for the 24-year-old.
Training camp will give Buycks more of an opportunity to further impress the coaching staff and perhaps secure some more minutes in the rotation.
It would certainly be a shocking turn of events if Buycks entered the season as Kyle Lowry's backup, surpassing Augustin in the process, who is still a battle-tested NBA guard with 147 starts under his belt. A combination of Buycks' strong play and the further downfall of Augustin would lead to that outcome.
Jose Calderon is no longer in the equation. The yearly controversy that always loomed over the team for that position is gone. Now, it's just a matter of which guard gives the team more of a chance to win when he's on the court.
It's Augustin for now, but will that last the season?
Battling for a Roster Spot: Julyan Stone vs. Chris Wright vs. Carlos Morais
Toronto's roster has 14 guaranteed contracts, which leaves just one spot remaining for guards Julyan Stone, Chris Wright and Carlos Morais to compete for in training camp.
The Raptors had actually reached an agreement with Stone back in July, but it became void after he failed his team physical. He played 26 games over the last two seasons with the Denver Nuggets, averaging just 1.7 points and 1.5 assists in 8.0 minutes.
Wright was recently a member of the Raptors' Las Vegas Summer League team. He averaged 10.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks over five games. He also had a short stint with the Golden State Warriors in 2011-12, playing in 24 games and averaging 2.9 points.
Carlos Morais is a name many basketball fans will be unfamiliar with. At the 2013 FIBA Africa championship as a member of Angola, Morais was named tournament MVP after averaging 15.9 points and 4.6 rebounds. He also represented his country at the 2008 Summer Olympics.
The favorite of the group to snatch up that 15th and final roster spot should be Stone. Not only does he have a history with general manager Masai Ujiri from their days in Denver, but if not for his physical, he would have been with the Raptors months ago.
In the NBA, 6'7" point guards are more rare than honest politicians, so that's definitely a huge selling point for him. He's a matchup problem waiting to happen.
In the end, whoever ends up making the team will rarely see the court, if at all. They'll simply be insurance in case any of the more important players in the rotation miss any time.
Biggest X-Factor: Jonas Valanciunas
Who is the Raptors' biggest X-Factor heading into the 2013-14 season? Isn't it obvious? It's Jonas Valanciunas, and it's not even close.
During his rookie season, Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points and 6.0 rebounds en route to being named a member of the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
Instead of using the offseason for some rest and relaxation, the 21-year-old Lithuanian decided to partake in quite a bit of basketball activity. He went on to win the MVP of the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, as well as help Lithuania achieve a silver medal in FIBA EuroBasket 2013.
He also spent a considerable amount of time working on his physique. Just by looking at him, you can tell right away that he's been hitting the weights and toning his body. That shows a lot about his character and how badly he wants to succeed. He's had his taste of NBA action, and he now knows what it's going to take to thrive and achieve greatness at the pro level.
The depth at the center position is thinner than Survivor contestants on day 36, so Valanciunas is certainly going to have all the playing time he can muster, as long as he stays healthy.
Best-Case Scenario for Valanciunas: He uses his second year in the league to establish himself as one of the up-and-coming big men in the game today. With more playing time, Valanciunas sees sizeable growth in his point, rebound and block averages. Toronto fans know just how effective Valanciunas can be, but by the end of the season the entire NBA will be talking about his potential to be a future star.
Worst-Case Scenario for Valanciunas: Bottom line, the are only two things that can derail his progress. The first would be injuries. Valanciunas missed 20 games last season with a broken ring finger. Bad luck can always befall the most in-shape of individuals, so there's no way of knowing if something like that will happen again.
How about those fouls? His 4.6 fouls per 36 minutes were ninth-highest in the league. If Valanciunas is on the bench due to foul trouble, that means Aaron Gray will be playing at center, or someone like Johnson or Hansbrough will be forced to defend a much larger big. That's a scary thought.
Raptors Best-Case Scenario for 2013-14
Valanciunas will carry over his success from the Las Vegas Summer League and FIBA Eurobasket championships and continue to make a name for himself around NBA circles in his sophomore year.
Rudy Gay's recent eye surgery to cure his astigmatism will prove to be a huge success, thus increasing his shooting percentages and allowing him to be a more efficient scorer from mid-range.
DeMar DeRozan will drastically improve his three-point shooting after a summer of working on his shot. This will give the Raptors another option that isn't named Steve Novak who can be relied on to regularly hit from behind the arc.
The Raptors will finish the season as one of the final three seeds in the Eastern Conference, thus making a return to the NBA playoffs.
Raptors Worst-Case Scenario for 2013-14
Terrence Ross will fail to make any significant strides in Year 2, causing fans and management alike to have major doubts over whether he has a long-term future with this team.
The Raptors will come out of the gate slow yet again, forcing Masai Ujiri to pick up the phone and see what kind of offers he can get for the likes of DeRozan, Lowry and Gay.
The team will win 30-35 games, missing out on the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
Another scenario that could easily play out is the Raptors finding themselves out of the playoff picture with a little over a month to go in the season, bringing up the possibility of "tanking" the remaining games. With the 2014 NBA draft as stacked as it is, perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad idea.
Hopefully it never comes to that.
Final Prediction: 41-41 (.500), 8th in Eastern Conference
The top five seeds in the Eastern Conference are locked in with the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers. Barring any major injuries, those aforementioned teams will surely be playing postseason basketball come May and June.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards are all in the mix for those final spots, so the Raptors' journey back to the postseason won't be an easy one.
Then again, why should anyone discount this team just because of the moves everyone else was making? Sure, the Raptors didn't land a Josh Smith or Andrew Bynum, but they're still in a better position now than they were at this point last year.
Gay has a full training camp to get further acquainted with his teammates, Valanciunas is looking better than ever and the overall depth of the rotation has been shored up.
As one of the lower seeds, the chances of Toronto knocking off one of the juggernauts of the conference are slim to none. It would be silly to think otherwise.
Making the playoffs in 2013-14 will be the start of something much greater. It will help put the franchise back on the map as a place where winning basketball is a staple, and not just a passing dream.
*Unless indicated otherwise, statistics/numbers courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
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