Toronto Raptors 2014-2015 team strengths and concerns


May 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; A view of the the Air Canada Centre in game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs between the Brooklyn Nets and the Toronto Raptors. Brooklyn defeated Toronto 104-103. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In about 2.5 months, on October 29th against the Atlanta Hawks, our Toronto Raptors start their 2014-2015 NBA season with a lot of optimism and hope for a consecutive success and Playoffs participation.

The team’s roster is currently more than complete, including 16 players for 15 roster spots. The team kept all its talented free agents (Lowry, Patterson and Vasquez), made a successful trade (Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira for John Salmons), and acquired two SFs via Draft (Caboclo and Daniels) and one via free agency (James Johnson). They also signed PG Will Cherry and SF Jordan Hamilton.

This team kept all its talent, but it needs more talent to compete, because last season, the NY-based teams experienced long stretches of bad results, helping our team to clinch the Atlantic Division. This season is going to be much different. The Eastern Conference will have a new “super team”; LeBron James and Kevin Love’s Cleveland Cavaliers, which finished 10th last season. The Knicks, who didn’t meet the playoff expectations last season, will have Carmelo Anthony in great shape, former Raptors team members: Calderon, Bargnani and Acy Law , Tim Hardaway Jr more experienced and Samuel Dalembert. These two teams will push hard for a playoff spot.
From the rest of the teams that they didn’t reached the playoffs, players like Jabari Parker (Bucks) or Marcus Smart (Celtics) may lead their teams to more winning streaks than last season.

The other 7 teams (apart from the Raptors) that were in the playoff spots last season are the following:

1. Indiana Pacers: This team currently recovers from a big shock. They lost Paul George for the rest of the season, and before that, they lost Lance Stephenson who signed a contract for the Charlotte Hornets. Even with these deficiencies, the Pacers seem capable of clinching a playoff spot this season. It will be tough though.

2. Miami Heat: They lost Lebron James but they kept Dwane Wade and Chris Bosh and they also acquired Luol Deng and Danny Granger to fill James’ empty spot. They traded guard PJ Hairston for talented guard Shabazz Napier from the Charlotte Hornets. They may not reach the NBA finals, but they will be at the playoffs 100%.

3. Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic were added to an already successful team this off-season, making the Bulls even stronger.

4. Washington Wizards: They re-signed Marcin Gortat, they didn’t lose any good talent and they brought Paul Pierce and Kris Humphries. They are playoff contenders.

5.  Brooklyn Nets: The coaching experiment of last season is over. Lionel Hollins is a much more experienced head man than Jason Kidd. They’ve lost Pierce (and Blatche) but they acquired talented Croatian swingman Bojan Bogdanovic from Turkey and Jarett Jack from Cleveland. I’m not sure how they will react this season. Brook Lopez’s recovery from his injury will play significant part on the team’s success. But at least they will fight for the playoff spot, even the 1st Atlantic Division place.

6. Charlotte Hornets: The new-era Hornets are entering the 2014-2015 with high expectations. Lance Stephenson along with Gary Neal are the new faces of the team that will have important role on his Airness team success.

7. Atlanta Hawks: Thabo Sefolosha joined the team this season, hoping that he will help it to succeed for another one. Andreian Payne (whose name was playing a lot during the draft period for the Raptors) is a Hawk too. They start this season (against our Raptors) with the optimism that they will be at the top 8 teams at the end.

So, what does this mean? It means that this season will be tougher, that the Raptors need depth in order to stay competitive for the regular (and hopefully more than the regular) season.

But what is the case with our second unit and the bench depth in general? Is Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira the answer for the flaw in the center spot, that our team shown last season? Is Terrence Ross more matured, so he could present a consistency so he could be a strong “weapon” both offensively and defensively this season? Is James Johnson, who took the part of John Salmons, going to help the team in the offensive end? Defensively he will be better than Salmons was, but offensively? His 26.6% percentage beyond the arc doesn’t describe an efficient 3-pt scorer. And we need 3-pt scoring. Maybe Bruno Caboclo proves everybody wrong, and he contributes from the very first day, especially on the offensive end, where reports say that he’s an efficient 3-pt shooter. What is going to happen with Landry Fields? Is he going to be only a member of the intra-squad scrimmages, or we will see a transformation of this player? Are we OK with Patterson and Hansbrough as our backup PF?

During the offseason there were interesting cases of players that could contribute in our team and even help it to go to the next level; Carlos Boozer could come cheap considering his waiver status. Thabo Sefolosha, Trevor Ariza or even Luol Deng (but the latter was too expensive to sign considering our salary cap limitations) were very interesting cases of the swignman that the Raptors were looking for, but they decided to go to our Eastern Conference opponents, expect of Ariza who returned to Houston.

The team needs more depth to be competitive. The second unit must be talented and NBA-ready to help the team play a leading role in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully the chemistry will stay the same, the acquisitions of Williams and Caboclo proved very successful and Terrence Ross play like Ray Allen (because I believe he has similarities to this magnificent player).

Finlally, let’s hope that tinkerman Masai keeps a secret “magic move” for the end of the off-season/pre-season.