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NBA Team Previews: Toronto Raptors 2013-14

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Raptors spun their wheels once again last season, as the Bryan Colangelo era in Toronto came to a whimpering end. A futile offseason attempt to repatriate Steve Nash left them holding the bag on a poison pill contract to role player Landry Fields (which was designed to shut the Knicks out of the Nash sweepstakes, only for the Lakers to swoop in instead) and forced Colangelo to deal a first-round pick for Kyle Lowry to man the point. When Lowry, Fields and Andrea Bargnani missed a combined 93 games though, the club just wasn't able to keep pace even in a weak Eastern Conference. A trade deadline deal to pick up Rudy Gay's max contract injected a little life into the roster, but when the Raptors missed the postseason yet again, Colangelo was quietly booted upstairs and replaced by former Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri.

Ujiri's first order of business was to send Bargnani packing, dealing the oft-injured former first overall pick to the Knicks in exchange for some spare parts and a bit of room under the salary cap. With no first round pick to bolster the roster (the Thunder ended up selecting at number 12 with the pick the Raptors traded for Lowry, landing raw young center Steven Adams) Ujiri inherited a top-heavy lineup that lacked the depth he was accustomed to in Denver, so he signed Tyler Hansbrough to help toughen up the culture in the locker room, and more deals could be coming if the team doesn't start to gel and make some progress towards their first playoff appearance since 2007-08.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
When healthy, Lowry will see 30-34 minutes at the point, with D.J. Augustin getting 14-16 minutes in support and moving into the starting lineup if (or when) Lowry gets banged up again. Dwight Buycks will see sporadic minutes as the third point guard. If Augustin proves capable though, it wouldn't be a surprise to see coach Dwane Casey lessen the load on Lowry in an effort to keep him in one piece. DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay should each see 36-plus minutes at the two and three spots as the main offensive threats in the Raptors' lineup, with Terrence Ross and Fields backing them up for 10-15 minutes depending on matchups. Amir Johnson should finally be able to settle in at the four rather than bouncing between power forward and center to make room for Bargnani, seeing 28-32 minutes with Tyler Hansbrough getting 12-15 minutes as a physical presence off the bench, and Steve Novak seeing similar minutes in Bargnani's old stretch-four role with some time at small forward as well. Austin Daye and Quincy Acy could also see garbage time action, or bigger roles if injuries hit. Second-year center Jonas Valanciunas should take a big step forward this season and see 28-32 minutes in the middle with Aaron Gray getting 10-12 as his main backup, and Johnson seeing some time at center as well when the Raptors go small.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS

Center

Jonas Valanciunas: The young Lithuanian closed out last season with authority, scoring 14.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in April and carrying that momentum through with an at-times dominant performance in the summer league. Valanciunas is smart, athletic and still adding bulk and strength to his frame, so while he might find it tough to maintain that kind of scoring pace on a team where Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are the engine of the offense from the wings he should provide solid rebounding numbers and could certainly surprise in blocks. Combined with excellent percentages from a big man, Valanciunas should be one of the better fantasy options at center.

Aaron Gray: A willing if limited banger, Gray is firmly behind Jonas Valanciunas on the Raptors' depth chart and could lose minutes to Amir Johnson as well if the team goes with a small lineup more frequently this season. He's purely bench fodder.

Forward

Rudy Gay: Gay's numbers mostly bounced back to their usual impressive levels after his deadline deal to the Raptors and he quickly developed a rapport with fellow wingman DeMar DeRozan, but his dwindling shooting percentage remains a concern for fantasy owners. He underwent corrective eye surgery in the offseason in an attempt to improve his accuracy, and if his eyesight was the culprit, Gay will have a real chance to break the 20 points per game mark for only the second time in his career as he'll be the clear top dog in the Raptors' offense. More likely though, he'll provide his usual not-quite-elite, across the board production.

Amir Johnson: Long miscast as an undersized center due to the Raptors' need to accommodate Andrea Bargnani, Johnson will finally get to enjoy life as an athletic power forward while Jonas Valanciunas bangs around with the giants in the paint. Johnson will be purely a supporting option on offense behind Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, but he averaged nearly a double-double last season as a starter (12.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks) and should be able to replicate that kind of production again.

Tyler Hansbrough: Hansbrough fell out of favor in Indiana, seeing the fewest minutes and posting the lowest scoring average of his career, and he moved on to Toronto as a free agent. He'll provide an important enforcer element to a Raptors' roster that has been labeled as soft in recent seasons and should see solid court time behind Amir Johnson at power forward, but don't expect a big increase in minutes or production.

Landry Fields: Fields came over to the Raptors on a too-large contract as part of Bryan Colangelo's machinations to bring Steve Nash to Canada, but elbow surgery and back woes limited him to 51 mostly ineffective games in his debut season with the Raptors. Now stuck firmly behind Rudy Gay on the depth chart at small forward, Fields will try to earn his money by supplying some hustle and modest production off the bench.

Steve Novak: Novak has just one skill, shooting threes, and he was exposed in extended minutes with the Knicks last season. Sent to Toronto as part of the Andrea Bargnani deal, he should see fewer minutes as a pure sharp-shooter off the bench but could be more effective in terms of shooting percentage in the more clearly-defined role.

Austin Daye: Daye has just about run out of chances to establish himself as an NBA regular and will probably spend most of his nights in Toronto at the end of the bench on as a Coach's Decision DNP.

Quincy Acy: The Raptors are still hoping that Acy can develop into a Reggie Evans-style glass crasher, but the young forward still has a long way to go before earning a regular spot in an NBA rotation.

Guard

Kyle Lowry: Lowry's first season in Toronto was a rough one, as he battled his usual litany of injuries and had trouble finding his footing in Dwane Casey's offense even after Jose Calderon got dealt away. Lowry's talent has never been in doubt, but with the Raptors' offense firmly in the hands of the Rudy Gay/DeMar DeRozan duo off the wing Lowry may not see enough shots to get back into the 14 ppg range. He'll still be a plus rebounder from the point guard spot, but unless he can transform his game to better emphasize his distribution skills, Lowry's likely headed for another disappointing fantasy season regardless of how many games he stays on the court for.

DeMar DeRozan: DeRozan found another gear to his game last season, attacking the rim more often and getting to the line more frequently to fuel a career-best scoring average, but surprisingly, his game really seemed to take off after the Raptors acquired Rudy Gay. Rather than fighting for the ball, the two wing men seemed in synch from the jump, forcing defenses to choose who was going to beat them. Gay is the team's unquestioned first option on offense, but as DeRozan continues to add strength to his wiry frame, he should get more favorable calls from refs and even add some three point range to his arsenal. Another step up in production is still very possible.

Terrence Ross: Ross' rookie season was predictably inconsistent, but his retro Vinsanity slam dunk contest win brought him plenty of attention anyway. He's a fantastic athlete with great hops and some feel for shooting from long range, but with Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan in firm control of the starting wing spots, Ross will remain a bench player for the foreseeable future. That role might be the best thing for his development though, and another year or two as a defense and sharpshooting specialist should allow him to hone his skill set and be ready to blossom once a starting spot opens up for him.

D.J. Augustin: Augustin got lost on the Pacers' bench last season, averaging career-worst numbers across the board, but as the backup to the fragile Kyle Lowry he's got a better shot at seeing consistent minutes and regaining the form he flashed in 2010. Even if Lowry stays healthy, Augustin should help provide a three-point shooting element that the Raptors' second unit lacked last season.

Dwight Buycks: The well-traveled Buycks gets his first crack at the NBA after an MVP season in France and an impressive summer league performance, but unless (until?) a Kyle Lowry injury opens up some court time for him, he'll strictly be an end-of-the-bench player.

SLEEPER

Jonas Valanciunas: His athleticism and wingspan could allow him to threaten the 2.0 block per game mark, and with opposing defenses focused on shutting down Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, there could be plenty of open looks and putbacks available for Valanciunas. His numbers will almost certainly improve from his rookie season. The only question is, how big a leap will he make?

BUST

Kyle Lowry: Lowry's inability to stay healthy already works against his fantasy value, and on a Raptors squad that already has Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan and an emerging Jonas Valanciunas clamoring for shots, it's hard to see how Lowry will be able to maintain the scoring average he posted in Houston. Drafting him with an expectation that his numbers will rebound seems like a very risky proposition.