Will the Toronto Raptors contend soon?


The Toronto Raptors are on the precipice of being an elite team. It might be sooner than you think before the Raps are in the position of battling the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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Upper management has already secured the future services of our All-Star point guard, Kyle Lowry, and starting centre Jonas Valanciunas well into the future. Other off-season moves included signing Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll and the defensive-minded point guard with a championship pedigree, Cory Joseph. Adding two starting calibre pieces to a core, which contained the youngest starting five among division leaders in the NBA, is just another reason to believe the Raptors are ready to dominate the East sooner rather than later.

It was only a couple of months ago that NBA.com rated the backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry the best duo in the East and second overall, only to that of the Golden State Warriors.

Unfortunately, injuries played a large part in limiting Toronto’s backcourt duo and eventually forcing head coach Dwayne Casey to rest them going into the playoffs last season. Even throughout the first-round sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards, Lowry looked exhausted while still wearing a knee brace and DeRozan was left to fend off multiple double teams.

Enter DeMarre Carroll. Junkyard Dog 2.0 brings a huge relief on both ends of the court. He offers something most teams do not have: the ability to stop LeBron James.

Having someone who can and will go one-on-one with James or a James-esque player every night might be the only thing the Raptors were missing. James Johnson proved to be a major cog in the team’s defensive system, but his playing time dissipated going into the playoffs. Now, with Carroll as a starter and a similar player in Johnson coming off the bench, the Raptors have the makings of an improved defence. Not only that, but with the signing of mobile centre Bismack Biyombo, the team will be able to keep their defensive presence while playing small ball as well.

Overall, with the arrival of Carroll, the Raptors can use Terrence Ross off the bench, along with Joseph, Johnson, Luis Scola and Biyombo. The team’s bench unit will probably have more defensive stopping power than the actual starters. The fifth-best bench statistically from 2014-15 will see a dip in production with the loss of Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez, but will make up for it with the insertion athleticism and defence.

The Raptors are poised to be able to compete with a juggernaut of an offence and a much-improved defence. They should be one of few teams that can flourish playing small ball or going big. Depending on the further development of the young players, contending may be a couple years away, but it is certainly coming.

Next: Raptors disrespected on SI's top 100 players list

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