The Toronto Raptors will enter the 2014-2015 season with high hopes of holding their ground. In fact, with the team rebuild all but complete (how many of you at this time last year were calling for the team to tank?), Raps fans have legitimate hope of our franchise’s first-ever 50+ wins season. To accomplish that feat will require team improvement, which in turn can only occur when individuals post better offensive numbers, defend more successfully, etc. Which Raps are most likely to step up their games?
Last season provided undeniable proof that giving young players a chance to earn their stripes pays off (provided you select the right kids!). Let’s make sure we understand our terms of reference here: to me, a young player is one who has played fewer than 3 NBA seasons, and has not celebrated his 25th birthday. I’m particularly interested in them because most players beyond those parameters have established their offensive statistical ceiling. A quick glance at the Raps roster reveals only two players of interest who meet both criteria: Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. For TRoss, every stat except rebounding was up dramatically from his rookie season. To me, the most critical improvement was in his 3-point shooting percentage, from 33.2 to 39.5. While that doesn’t compare to Kyle Korver’s gaudy league-leading 47.2, it’s more than respectable. What Terrence needs to find, with the help of his coach and teammates, are more opportunities to fire away. Denver’s Randy Foye, of all people, had 90 more 3-point attempts than TRoss. Come again?
Terrence’s shooting from inside the arc cannot be excused. His 42.3% ranked him near the bottom of his peers. If he doesn’t improve this number dramatically, he will have to play extraordinary defense (which he’s capable of) to keep his starter’s job.
Netting it out for TRoss – he needs to maintain his shooting percentage from 3-point range while taking 2 more shots, and increase his 2-point makes on about the same number of attempts. He’s capable of that, so let’s give him 5 more points per game.
JV’s improvement from his rookie season was not as striking as TRoss’, which isn’t surprising. The increase in JV’s minutes per game wasn’t nearly as great as TRoss’. While JV’s shooting percentage actually dropped, it was by a trivial degree. He maintained his excellent free-throw shooting rate, so opponents can’t hack him without paying the penalty. JV’s rebounding improved, and there’s no reason to think it can’t do so again. On the assumption that every other starter is now a scoring threat, JV should find his opportunities more plentiful. I’m going to give him another basket and free throw per game, so his scoring average should increase into the low teens.
There! The Raps are now scoring 8 more points per game just from their youngest players. But can their defensive prowess match their offensive improvement? We’ll take a look at that in Part 2.