As we here at Sportsmasher gear up for the 2012-2013 NBA Season, one which should be the most entertaining in recent memory, we were debating which teams we were most excited to watch. Which teams will be the most entertaining? Which teams will we be watching on NBA League Pass on a nightly basis. When I said that I was really looking forward to watching the Toronto Raptors this season, I was nearly laughed out of the building. As I began to explain myself, others started to see where I was coming from, and soon everyone was in agreement. I think that the Toronto Raptors will be both exciting and good this coming season, and let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I am not saying that they will knock the Miami Heat out of the playoffs and win the NBA title. I am saying that the Raptors will be a playoff bound team that will be fun to watch every night, and here is why:
1) Kyle Lowry – Raptors Traded For A Legitimate Point Guard: The Raptors have needed a legitimate starting point guard for a long time now, and when the Rockets signed Jeremy Lin to an offer sheet, they needed to get rid of their unhappy starting point guard. Lowry became available for cents on the dollar (a lottery protected first round pick) and the Raptors jumped at acquiring a lead guard who can do it all (averaged 14.3 PPG, 6.6 APG, 4.6 RPG in 11-12) in a trade with Houston. Lowry is a very good NBA point guard who can run an offense and get the ball to players in a place where they can succeed, I expect his assist numbers to leap this season, and I think he is a perfect fit for what Toronto is trying to do offensively.
2) Jonas Valanciunas – A Legitimate Center Came Over From Europe: With the fifth pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, the Raptors selected Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas, but he stayed overseas for the strike-shortened season that followed. Valanciunas finally arrived on Canadian soil in time for the upcoming 2012-2013 season, and he will have an immediate impact on the Raptors frontcourt. I have watched Valanciunas clips on YouTube and seen his work in the preseason, and he brings an interior presence that the Raptors have lacked for quite some time, as a rebounder and as a shot blocker. The addition of Valanciunas will allow may of the Raptors frontcourt players to play their more natural positions, and they will not be forcing Amir Johnson or Ed Davis to play center anymore, or counting on talented but soft Andrea Bargnani to rebound. Instead the Raptors will be able to throw several different front court looks at opponents with a true center on their roster, and players like Johnson and Davis who have been miscast can play their more natural roles. I do not expect Valanciunas to be the savior of the Raptors yet, he will have growing pains adjusting to the NBA on the offensive end, and will likely be in foul trouble often. However, at just 20 years old, Valanciunas will immediately provide an upgrade as a shot blocker and rebounder who will make things easier for the rest of the big men on the team.
3) Terrence Ross and Landry Fields: Improved Play On The Wings – The Raptors drafted Terrence Ross out of University of Washington with the eighth pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, and although he is only a rookie, he is a very athletic wing and a strong defender who can shoot from long range. Ross reminds me of Oklahoma City’s James Harden when he came into the NBA, although he is nowhere need the ball handler and needs to fill out before we start making that comparison. They Raptors also signed New York Knicks swingman Landry Fields to an offer sheet during a battle for free agent point guard Steve Nash (before Nash ended up with the Lakers – if the Knicks matched Fields, they couldn’t sign and trade him for Nash) an offer sheet the Knicks did not match. Although they are overpaying for Fields a bit, he and Ross provide a major depth upgrade on the wings for the Raptors this season.
4) Overall Organizational Depth – With 2011 first round pick Valanciunas coming over from Lithuania and the selection of Ross in the 2012 draft, the Raptors essentially have two top eight draft picks who will be rookies this season, which greatly improves the depth of the organization. Each of these players fill a major need (Valanciunas rebounding and interior defense, Ross long range shooting and perimeter defense) and will allow the Raptors veteran players to play their more natural roles this coming season. The addition of point guard Kyle Lowry gives the Raptors a talented young point guard who has already proven himself on the NBA level, something that they have lacked for a long time, and the fact that he can run an offense will instantly improve the team. The additions of swingman Landry Fields and point guard John Lucas will also add to the depth of this roster, both players have shown they can be effective off of the bench or even as fill-in starters in the NBA.
Once again, I am not saying the Raptors will be sleeper contenders for the NBA title, let’s not get ahead of ourselves Raptors Fans (maybe in a few years when Valanciunas develops and gains some NBA experience). What I am saying is that the city of Toronto will fall in love with this much improved basketball team, which will be fun to watch every single night, and could easily sneak into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
(Yes, I bet the OVER on their wins total, and I’ll be following all year)