Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Raptors
2012-13 Record: 34-48
Coach: Dwane Casey (third season with Raptors)
The Raptors will be in the mix for one of the last couple of playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. A lot is going to depend on Jonas Valanciunas. He had a great finish last year, but a lot of those games came with no pressure because they were already out of the postseason race. The other thing is that they have new management at a time when coach Dwane Casey, forward Rudy Gay and point guard Kyle Lowry are all in the final years of their deals. [Gay has a $19.3 million player option for 2014-15.] It's an important time for new general manager Masai Ujiri in terms of evaluation.
Valanciunas was very assertive offensively when he got deep post position in the lane. He's got the size to hold his position, he has good hands and he presents a big target. He can finish with a power move over the shoulder in either direction, and he can also show the ball and put it on the floor. He's going to get more comfortable, but his teammates need to be committed to feeding him. Getting him the ball in favorable spots helps DeMar DeRozan and Gay on the wing because another defender has to come down and help on Valanciunas.
He's an imposing defender inside. He changes shots and he'll evolve into a stopper once he has learned how to position himself. He got into some foul trouble early in the season that would take him off the floor. He has to not overreact and avoid positions where he's wasting fouls. And he'll learn that as he plays against these opponents more: Stay down on this guy, don't get up because he's going to fake you and force you to foul him. You hear that and you say, "OK, OK, OK" -- but it takes experience.
The Raptors may make a lot of changes to their roster, but Valanciunas is one of the guys to hold onto. He has oodles of potential and he'll be in the league a long time.
Power forward Amir Johnson finally stepped up last year. With Johnson and Valanciunas, that's a nice athletic pair for the frontcourt. Johnson plays hard. His effort is there and his length is good. He's not a big-time rebounder, but he fights, he contests shots and he can finish a little bit. Having Tyler Hansbrough competing with Johnson on a daily basis is going to pick it up for Amir, and that's probably something he needs.
Gay has a lot of talent. If your team is good enough to get you to the end of a game [with a chance to win], Gay can win that game for you. He isn't consistent enough to lead his team to that position on a regular basis, but when it gets to winning time, he has the guts and ability to make big shots. He has a decent post-up game. His field-goal percentage is not that great and he forces some shots. His length and athleticism are assets at small forward, and he can handle the ball a little bit. He's not much of a playmaker, and defensively he's average.
Lowry is one of those point guards who pounds the ball. His size [6 feet] is an issue, and he has a tendency to hang on to the ball instead of trying to make the play and get everybody touches and move it around. He's good enough to be a starter on a below-average team, but I don't think his method translates to a good team. He probably has more confidence in himself than is warranted. I think he thinks of himself as the first option, which stunts guys like DeRozan and Gay who need the ball, too.
Lowry has three-point range, but at his size he has to have open shots. He can make shots, but he takes a lot of bad ones. He's an attacker, but he's not that good as a finisher. I don't think he gets enough easy baskets in transition to force defenders back on their heels. His on-ball defense isn't at the top among point guards, but he's active.
I'm a believer in DeRozan. He has a great-looking jump shot, he's extremely athletic and he seems to work at coming off screens. Is he a catch-and-shoot three-point guy? No, but that part of his game will expand because he has good mechanics. The way he works to come off screens is a tribute to Casey and the execution of running sets and getting shots in the flow of the offense, as opposed to the iso-type thing. Isos are necessary sometimes, too, but for the meat and potatoes you want to work within the system. DeRozan can't carry a good team yet, but if he's your fourth or fifth player, you're in great shape. He has length defensively and he competes.
Hansbrough will compete -- and he's going to do it no matter if they're up 20 or down 20. He is limited, and he thinks he's a little more of an offensive player than he really is. He clearly has a lot of confidence in himself. Hansbrough is not an imposing shot blocker and defender, but he's physical and is a plus getting out and showing on the pick-and-roll away from the basket.
Can Steve Novak be the same asset somewhere besides New York? Did the system make him, or did he earn his own stripes? We're going to find out this year. He was a one-dimensional catch-and-shoot player in New York, but he was pretty damn good at it. He's a defensive liability, though.
Landry Fields took a step backward last season. He was a product of the Mike D'Antoni system in New York, and he looked good in that run-and-gun type of play because he has an even skill set -- he can handle the ball and shoot a little bit. He exceeded his second-round draft position with the Knicks, but now he's probably returned to what people thought he was. Alan Anderson was just as good last season, and they're going to miss him this year.
Terrence Ross is DeMar DeRozan lite. He's slim and not as sturdy, and he's not able to do things quite as well as DeRozan at the same position. Ross has a nice stroke, but he can't get to his spots as well as DeRozan and he gets beat up a little bit. He'll continue to be inconsistent in his second season.
D.J. Augustin was a disappointment in Indiana last season after Charlotte let him go. He has quickness, but he's small and he's not creative in getting the ball to people. He relies more on his speed with the ball than his ability to deliver it. A player such as Chris Paul can get to spots and make plays and pass, and someone like Nate Robinson possesses quickness with an ability to make shots. But Augustin doesn't get other people involved and he doesn't make enough shots; he just has quickness.
Casey is better than he gets credit for. He's very organized and seems prepared. I don't think his talent has allowed him to be successful enough. He'll coach the team the same way even though he's in the last year of his deal, and if he takes the fall he'll walk away without slamming anybody because he's a real professional. He could also get them to the playoffs, which would be quite an achievement.