#19 – The Toronto Raptors

This team would jump up the list in a big way with Drake calling all their games in the way he did during that Nets matchups. I’d also give them at least 5 spots higher up if they broke out the Drake themed black-and-gold jerseys on a more regular basis. (Who’s writing this post, my sister??). And of course, seeing them in the classic Vince-era throwbacks would all but guarantee them a top 3 spot.

I’ve always had a soft spot for this team, even though I could never say exactly why. Kyle Lowry is a scrappy mother who’s shown his chops for holding down a starting roll after years of being relegated to backup units because of “attitude”. Terrance Ross has the big-play highlights and scoring explosions buried under acres and acres of mediocrity. Demar DeRozan is a 20 point scorer who has always been the highlight of any kind of starved-during-the-summer NBA action. Actually, when you come to think of it, I really can’t say exactly why I like these guys.

The Raptors may be one of those examples where the entire team achieves something greater than the sum of its collective parts. This was certainly true last year when the team shockingly put together the league’s third most efficient offense behind L.A. and Golden State, despite very little emphasis on the 3 ball or any real proven shooters on their roster. They needed to rely on this offense big-time as they absolutely fell off a cliff after the All-Star break and basically limped into a postseason sweeping at the hands of the Wizards and Raps killer Paul Pierce.

As much as I enjoyed the Raptors last season, they were no Washington and didn’t have a single player who could come close to the dynamism (is that a word?) and absolute good guy humility of John Wall. I was rooting for the Wizards all the way in that series and ended up buying into the Paul Pierce bravado; saying screw you to Toronto and cheering for the sweep. And I don’t know if I’ve really recovered from that. And that’s probably why they’re ranked so low here.

Yes, Toronto did get a little aggressive this offseason, with General Manager Masai Ujiri prioritizing an upgrade to the team’s porous perimeter defense. They pried Corey Joseph (a native Canadian) away from the Spurs with a 4 year $30 million contract and threw big money at Atlanta stopper Demare Carroll, while dumping off Greivis “Big Balls” Vasquez for a first rounder. All of that should go a long way toward stopping the bleeding that people like John Wall and Brad Beal were able to inflict on Toronto, with the added bonus of the team considering allocating a good slice of Carroll’s minutes at the 4 for some as of yet-unseen Raptors small-ball.

The only downside of the summer was the loss of big-man Amir Johnson to the division rival Celtics. I’d love to be the first guy out there trumpeting how much more of a big deal this is than people realize, but if you really pay attention to basketball, that shit is old news. Amir Johnson, even with the ankle issues, is seriously, underrated good. This was a guy who was willing to rebound and put his body in front of the rim and absolutely sacrifice any kind of box score statistics to give his team a win. He was the closer for this team in the many nights that Jonas Valanciunas was in foul trouble (or just didn’t feel like playing any defense) and will be sorely missed.

Writing all of this I can’t help but feel like I have the Raptors a little too low. They did throw an extension at that same Valanciunas, gambling on his youth and athleticism and of course the soon-to-explode salary cap, with the hopes that he may become an All-Star caliber center in the next 2 years. Lowry has reportedly come into camp in better shape than he has been in the last five years and DeRozan did miss nearly a quarter of the last season after being an All-Star the year before. It’s impossible that the Raptors miss the playoffs in the East next year and more than likely that they are all fired up over last year’s embarrassing roll-over. Still, and even with Demare Carroll, I can’t help but feel that I know who these guys are. I know where they are and I know who Duane Casey is and I’m more excited for them to prove it in the playoffs than I am to watch them on a night-in night-off basis.

This 20-15 area is hard. All of these teams are going through little changes and will look to improve on last year’s results largely from internal improvement and a few on-the-margin signings. Carroll may register as a little more than that but he’s neither a 20 point per game scorer nor a particularly thrilling player to watch. And so, until further notice, we will leave Toronto right where it stands.

(sorry drake)

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