May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; We the North tshirts on the seats fro Toronto Raptors fans before game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

How can the Raptors become the Beast of the East? [Part 1]

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May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors fans in Jurassic Park outside of the Air Canada Centre before game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

 

In looking ahead to next season, it’s impossible not to be highly excited by the Toronto Raptors. The team flip-flopped its record from 34-48 to 48-34, despite depending on an extremely youthful starting lineup. Another 14-game improvement would see our team end the ’14-’15 season at 62-20, or exactly the record of the league-best San Antonio Spurs. Is such a leap even within the realm of possibility?

The stars aligned in a remarkable fashion this past season for the Raps. The team was able to avoid injury to a degree not likely to be duplicated; Amir Johnson was the most banged-up starter, and he appeared in 77 (of 82) games. Contrast that to teams like the Chicago Bulls, who had to make do for the second straight season without all-world guard Derrick Rose. Atlanta was never the same after losing Al Horford. The Knicks only had the services of Andrea Bargnani for 42 games; whether that was a plus or a minus for them is open to debate.

The Raptors had team chemistry, a mysterious quality, but one missed greatly when not on hand. Masai Ujiri has emphasized its importance to our side’s success, which I’m happy about. Presumably he’ll retain the services of as many of our guys as he can, particularly those (like Amir, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson) who’ve made it clear they want to return.

Not all was beer & skittles for our guys. A 1-6 record in overtime was damaging, and of course starting the season 6-12 before turfing Mr. Gay overboard didn’t help. The Raps showed a marked lack of interest in wiping the floor with bad teams. For example, we were 8-0 against the dismal outfits from Philadelphia and Milwaukee. On the surface that’s fine, I suppose, but the largest margin of victory was 11 points over Philly, and 12 over the Bucks. Before our team can truly frighten anyone, we’ll need to prove our ability to destroy the injured, tanking or just plain bad opponents we face.

I think we’re getting to the heart of the matter when I decide a post about the Raptors as a team is really about Terrence Ross. While I’m not married to the idea that a championship team in the NBA needs a superstar, it’s hard to argue with. Assuming we have Kyle Lowry back, our starting five is as solid as any team, except for the lack of an obvious All-Star. However, few opponents have a player with the upside of TRoss. While he wasn’t able to follow up his astonishing 51-point game with any remotely similar scoring feat, he improved his overall game. If TRoss can take some giant steps next season, we’ll be feared.

to be continued….

 

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