The Toronto Raptors may not be as far from being a good team as their record last year suggests. While the sample size certainly wasn’t very large, the Raptors’ starting unit of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas was the fifth most effective 5-man lineup in the NBA in terms of point differential per 100 possessions.
Among the top 15 5-man units, we have the Heat, Grizzlies, Hawks and Thunder holding two spots each, and the Clippers with three different units all joining them. Other teams in the top fifteen include the Pacers, Spurs and the Knicks with the NBA’s best 5-man unit of Anthony, Chandler, Felton, Kidd and J.R Smith.
Considering the age and potential of the Raptors’ starting five, it isn’t absurd to assume they may actually get better this year with an entire off-season of growth for their young players and a full training camp to integrate Rudy Gay.
Furthermore, it speaks to the effectiveness of some of the Raptors’ underrated pieces; namely Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. The Grizzlies improved when they replaced Rudy Gay with Tayshaun Prince, but Gay may simply fit better with the Raptors than he ever did in Memphis’ offense. Johnson and Lowry have shown the ability to play off of Gay, and DeRozan has shown glimpses of being able to compliment him.
The real task ahead for the Raptors this season will be integrating the new Jonas Valanciunas into their offensive scheme. Making the second year big man a central focus of their offensive game plan could certainly work in a plethora of ways simply due to the diverse skills Jonas already possesses.