Two decades after the Toronto Raptors helped the NBA expand into Canada, last season everything finally came together. The Raptors finished last season with a franchise best 56-26 record. In the postseason, despite an injury to starting center Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors made it to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, where they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games.
The Raptors kept star swingman DeMar DeRozan in free agency, but lost several contributors, including Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo ... The Raptors used a lottery pick on Austrian big man Jakob Poeltl ... The Raptors agreed to long-term contract extensions with general manager Masai Ujiri and coach Dwane Casey, who have molded the franchise the last few seasons.
- The Raptors need to continue to be a tough defensive team despite the loss of Biyombo. Last season, Toronto ranked third in opponents points per game (98.2) and posted the league's 11th best defensive rating (102.7).
- The Raptors kept their dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan together, and after a summer together playing for USA Basketball, the franchise players will be asked to continue their impressive production. Last season they combined to average 44.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg and 10.4 apg.
- Jonas Valanciunas must keep improving. Without Biyombo to act as a defensive stopper, the 24-year-old Valanciunas will be asked to play a more important role. He looked terrific in the postseason before an ankle injury sidelined him.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Last summer the Raptors spent big money on DeMarre Carroll, who was coming off a career year with the Atlanta Hawks. But injuries derailed his first season up north, as Carroll ended up playing just 26 regular season games and averaging 11.0 ppg. If Carroll can stay healthy this season, he should be capable of providing a bigger boost.
Kyle Lowry | 21.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.4 apg
Turned in a career season. Will have to maintain that production for the Raptors to continue their success.
DeMar DeRozan | 23.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4 apg
Still just 27 years old, DeRozan got to the free throw line 8.4 times per game last season.
DeMarre Carroll | 11 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1 apg
Averaged a career-best 1.7 steals per game last season.
Jared Sullinger | 10.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.3 apg
Came over from Boston, and Casey says the starting job is Sullinger's to lose.
Jonas Valanciunas | 12.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 0.7 apg
Toronto's interior play depends heavily on Valanciunas' health, even moreso than last season.
Terrence Ross | 9.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.8 apg
Consistency has been the issue for Ross, whose talent has never been in question.
Cory Joseph | 8.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.1 apg
Joseph was terrific in his first season with Toronto as Lowry's backup.
Patrick Patterson | 6.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.2 apg
Should see plenty of time at power forward. He played an important role for Toronto last season.
THE BOTTOM LINE
After the performance and growth of the last two seasons, the expectations up north are now through the roof, probably rightfully so. While the Raptors still have to contend with the likes of the Cavaliers, they should be right at the top of the Eastern Conference once again.
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