2013-2014 NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

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Oct 16, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) talks to head coach Dwane Casey during the first half against the Boston Celtics at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors (37-45)

What an interesting roster. Toronto seems to be pushing toward a playoff berth under new general manager, Masai Ujiri (who came over from Denver), but the pieces aren’t the best fit.

I really like the “bookends” in Toronto, as they enter the year with Kyle Lowry at the point and Jonas Valanciunas at center. Lowry is a guy that I’ve always endorsed as a disruptive force defensively (to say the least), who is capable of putting up very good offensive numbers. The 27-year-old point man averaged 12 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds per game in just 30 minutes per game last season, and that playing time will undoubtedly rise with a full season out of the shadow of longtime point guard, Jose Calderon.

Valanciunas was the 5th overall pick for Toronto in the 2011 Draft, and he’s come along nicely. The 6-foot-11 big man is still only 21 years old (wow), and he shot 56% from the field (while averaging 9 points and 6 rebounds per game) last season. He needs to make a “leap” in order to make Toronto a legitimate playoff threat, but I think he has it in him.

The wing position is where things fly off the rails for Toronto, especially in the statistical community. Toronto plans to deploy DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay together at the 2 and 3 spots, and each guy is extremely talented but equally vexing. DeRozan simply can’t shoot, and that is his primary issue. He’s a freak athlete and a great finisher at 6-foot-7, but he has the “Josh Smith complex”, meaning that he plays the game as if he’s an elite shooter, but is the exact opposite. If someone can get in his head and convince him to attack the rim, he could eventually be worthy of the massive, 4-year deal he signed last year.

As for Rudy Gay, he’s one of the most divisive players in the NBA. Traditional basketball love him because he’s got every skill in the book at 6-foot-8, but he is one of the least efficient players in the league. Last season, Gay shot a deplorable 41.6% from the field and that came as a result of his insistence on settling contested jump shots (sensing a theme?). At any rate, he’s a long, athletic player who can play defense against certain guys, and he does have the ability to get his shot off at any point and time, but his disposition doesn’t help and the fit with DeRozan is one that couldn’t be less attractive.

The 5th starter, Amir Johnson, is a guy I really like, but the bench in Toronto leaves a lot to be desired. As Tom Haberstroh of ESPN noted, the Raptors with 14 points per 100 possessions better with Johnson on the court last year, and that is an indication of just how valuable he was. The 26-year-old power forward averaged 10 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, but he had issues staying on the court (28.7 minutes per game) thanks to consistent foul trouble. At any rate, I enjoy his work.

The bench doesn’t sport a single, above-average player and that is the main impetus to bring the Raps below 40 wins. Landry Fields and Tyler Hansborough are “famous” players for different reasons (Fields’ time in New York, and Hansborough at UNC), but each guy is a liability in most facets, with Fields posting a 10.3 PER last year and “Psycho T” shooting 42.7% in his career as a big man. Next to them, Toronto has DJ Augustin (sigh), Aaron Gray (double sigh), and Austin Daye, and that tells you all you need to know.

Toronto will hang around the playoff discussion, and they could uptick if the underrated Ujiri can pull off a mid-year trade, but if they stand pat, it’s not quite a playoff team.