Toronto Raptors Off Season Report

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2015/2016 Record: 56-26 (2nd in the East, lost the Easter Conference Finals)

Ins:

Jakob Poeltl DR – Pick 9
Pascal Siakim DR – Pick 27
Jared Sullinger FA – 1 Year / $5.6m
Fred Van Vleet FA – 3 Years / $2.7m (Non-Guaranteed)

Outs:

Bismarck Biyombo FA – Magic
James Johnson FA – Heat
Luis Scola FA – Nets
Jason Thompson FA – China

 Off Season Analysis:

‘We the North! ’Coming off a franchise best 56-win season and playing in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time, the Raptors had every reason to be optimistic and boisterous. Unfortunately, the Raptors had no answer to LeBron James in the six game series and their historic season ended. Entering this off-season, the Raptors had one pressing issue: re-signing DeMar DeRozan. For all his flaws, he was a­­ integral reason for the Raptors historical season. DeRozan’s contract, whilst within market value at 5 years/$139m, is questionable due to the notable flaws in his game and will impede the Raptor’s long-term flexibility. However for a variety of reasons the Raptors decided to ‘trust the devil you know’ rather then to contemplate a future without DeMar. The additions of Poeltl with the 9th pick and Sullinger, whilst safe, will not replace the production of losing Bimack Biyombo. Excluding variables such as the health of Carroll, the growth of the second unit, and whether Dwayne Casey can milk any more out of his stars in DeRozan and Lowry, the moves made this off season mean they will win slightly fewer games in 2016/17 and bring them no closer to toppling Cleveland for supremacy in the East.

DeMar DeRozan is not a bad player; it’s just that he now looks overrated given his production vs his contract, (the third largest in NBA history). For all his strengths; his ability to get to the rack and the line, his off ball movement, his post up play, his improved passing and his mid-range game, he is still best labelled as a poor man’s Harden. In reality, other than DeRozan’s bad defence, this is where the comparisons end, because unlike Harden DeRozan cannot hit the 3-ball. DeRozan averaged a career-high 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game on 44.6 percent shooting last season yet he did so by only hitting 0.6 threes off 1.8 attempts per game – an average of 33% (a career-high). Whilst not the worst numbers for a SG, it comes off a career high in usage at 29%.

In a league increasingly governed by advanced analytics, a player’s ability to reliably hit the 3-ball is becoming almost a pre-requisite if you’re less than 7ft. However, DeRozan has enough weapons in his offensive arsenal that can overcome most defensive structures in the home and away season. But come playoffs and opponent increased defensive planning of DeRozan, he was found out.

DeRozan had a career high this season in PER of 21.5, Real Plus/Minus (RPM) of -1.4 and a True Shooting of 55%. Yet when facing the likes of Paul George, Justice Winslow and LeBron James in the playoffs, his production dramatically decreased to a PER of 14.2, RPM -3.4, and a True Shooting Percentage of 46%. And a point of note, DeRozan’s overall RPM of -0.14 has him ranked 23rd… among shooting guards…

 

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My concern for this contract is that at 27, he is hitting his prime, and by the time of his final year he will be 31. If he was a shooter, not a problem, yet his production comes from driving to the basket and playing in the post. Unless your name ends in James and begins with LeBron, not many players’ bodies can withstand that kind of punishment (and James has had his glimpses of mortality too, with the Cavs nursing him throughout last seasons home and away games). Lastly, his contract removes any future flexibility the Raptors had. With DeRozan’s re-signing this current roster is what the Raptors have decided is their best chance moving forward. And with Boston rising in the East, (and with room to improve down the track, thanks Billy King) this current Raptors roster will find it a tough task to make it to the conference finals again, let alone make a serious run at the championship.

For all the questions surrounding his game, there were too many factors that led Toronto to trust the devil they know.  How do you not pay a 26 year old that:

  • Was selected a 2016 All-Star
  • Had a career high in points
  • Career high in PER and FTs (attempted/made)
  • 78 games played and career high in minutes
  • Led a team to a record 56 wins
  • Took a $13m discount as he was eligible for $152m
  • Has the biggest bromance in the league with your point guard?
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If Raptors didn’t sign DeRozan, they would have isolated and angered not only the entire 6, (led by Drizzy Drake) but also his best friend Lowry, arguably their most important player. This would also create further headaches for the Raptors as Lowry is a UFA at the end of the season. Not re-signing Double D would be a near impossible sell to Lowry, and I mean how could you make this proud father cry?

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Talking about hypotheticals, if GM Masai Ujiri didn’t resign DeRozan, their depth would ensure they wouldn’t have fallen completely off a cliff ala Cavs 2010/11 fashion. Norman Powell made great strides as a rookie: playing 48 games and averaging 40% from deep off 4.4 attempts. Terrence Ross has constantly teased fans with the possibility of a break out season after going off for 51 in early 2014. It’s been two years since GM Masai Ujiri claimed Bruno Caboclo is ‘two years away from being two years away’ so we should start seeing more of that that 7’7” wingspan. Cory Joseph was an integral part of the Lowry lead second unit that was anchored by Bismack Biyombo and supported by Patterson and Ross in the backcourt. This unit played 297 mins and was a collective 111.1 offensive rating and 94.7 defensive rating. A net rating of +16.4, the highest in the Eastern conference for a unit playing more than 250 minutes. So while the Raptors will definitely miss Biyombo, they can look forward to DeMarre Carroll helping to fill the void.

One player that isn’t listed as an ‘in’, but should be treated as one, is DeMarre Carroll. If he can bounce back from his knee troubles (according to Casey he still isnt 100%), he may also be able lessen the loss of Biyombo, especially if plays more minutes at the four. The Raptors signed Carroll so his 3 and D game could help cover the shortfalls of DeRozan. If he can return to his 2014/15 Atlanta form he will nicely complement and enhance the starting five. Another possible candidate for considerable minutes at the power forward is new signing Jared Sullinger.

Sullinger inked a one-year deal for the mid-level exception of $5.6m. Sully was brought in to replace the shell of Luis Scola and help mitigate the loss of Biyombo. His rebounding will create problems for most NBA forwards  and if Casey and his offensive assistants can transform his 3-ball like they did for Scola, Sullinger could create some headaches in the East. If the 3 ball eludes him, pairing Sully with Valanciunas and DeRozan makes spacing even more an issue, so look to see Sullinger playing more effectively in the second unit. His defence could also improve if he manages to keep his weight under control. (His weight issues are a rather sadaffair and causes lay well beyond laziness, affecting his family. ESPN and the Toronto Sun both have written great articles about his issues.)

Finally, Jakob Poeltl was selected with the 9th pick in the 2016 draft. This was gifted to Toronto after Masai Ujiri somehow convinced the Knicks to give up a first rounder for Andrea Bargnani back in 2013. Poeltl averaged 17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 64.6 percent shooting in his sophomore season at Utah. The Poeltl pick is a reflection of where the Raptors are at in terms of competing. They needed insurance after Biyomobo’s monster playoffs virtually guaranteed he would be leaving Toronto. He is a Valanciunas clone; a back to the basket big man, a solid rebounder and passer, and can create his own shot. Yet much like Valanciunas, he is limited by his lack of versatility on the offensive end, operating almost exclusively in the paint. Another similar comparison between both big men is their lack of lateral quickness especially on the defensive end. This leads both players struggling to defend the pick n’ roll and protect the rim. Poeltl will battle with Nogueira for back up minutes, but if he can adjust to the pace of the NBA (and given that Nogueira has only managed 35 games in two years), he stands a good chance to get important minutes.

Overall Toronto is gearing up to compete with Boston for the second seed in the East by looking for continuity and consistency over change. Poeltl was a safe pick yet doesn’t move the needle when compared to the loss of Biyombo. If the Raptors are to worry the Cavs, their young role players need to come along in leaps and bounds.

Grade: C+

2016/17 Prediction: 51-31

League Pass Meter: 7/10 

This team led by Lowry and DeRozan will always play exciting basketball and we will a lot of games this year. With the addition of Sullinger and the return of a healthy DeMarre Carroll this team will hurt teams on the inside and out. However 3 marks were deducted because watching DeRozan go to the line 4-5 times a night will drive you crazy.

Depth Chart:

PG: Lowry Joseph Wright Van Vleet*
SG: DeRozan Powell
SF: Carroll Ross Caboclo
PF: Patterson Sullinger Siakam
C: Valanciunas Nogueira Poeltl

* Salary likely guarantees 10th Jan 2017

Salary Cap Situation:

2016/17 salaries: $106,184,499
2017/18 salaries: $80,206,210

Max room: $-12,041,499
Min room: $-14,552,354

Future Assets:

Incoming:

2017 1st (L.A Clippers)

Outgoing:

None

2016/17 Questions:

  • Will DeRozan continue to improve and develop a 3pt shot?
  • Can Carroll come back healthy and productive?
  • Can the Raptors fend off Boston for the 2nd spot in the East?
  • Can Sullinger continue to grow as a player under Casey? (pun not intended)
  • How much will Biyombo’s departure effect the second unit?

 

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