The Toronto Raptors had one of if not the best season in franchise history last year, finishing with a team best record of 56-26 good for second in the east and a trip to the eastern conference finals before eventually bowing out to Cleveland in 6 games. But despite the loss the Raptors had an exceptional season that only raised the expectations of the team coming into the 2016-17 season. A revamped Eastern Conference that showed Boston getting Al Horford and the Bulls getting a veteran star in Dwayne Wade will provide a new set of challenges for the Dinos, and here are 3 key questions they face heading into the season.
- Can Demar Derozan Come Through And Prove His New Deal.
Demar Derozan had a fantastic regular season that had him averaging 23.5 points per game while shooting 44% from the field. He also had his best season PER averaging 21.5, his usage meanwhile was also his career high due to the Raptors iso based offense. He made the All-Star team for the second time in his career and looked to have a great post-season, but unfortunately he struggled alongside Kyle Lowry for most of the post-season and was one of the factors in the Raptors struggling to have consistent offense.
Even after the struggles of the playoffs for Demar, there was no real doubt that he would leave Toronto, he wanted to stay with the team that gave him a chance to become a star. Like his fellow teammate and friend Kyle Lowry, he showed dedication and loyalty to a team that was known for past stars bouncing given the chance.
The Raptors followed through on their promise signing Derozan to a massive five-year 139 million dollar deal insuring the Raptors and Demar Derozan are both in this for the long haul. Demar now has a chip on his shoulder and has a big task of proving he is worth that much.
As much as a scorer Derozan is his game is only consistent inside the three-point line only shooting only 33% from behind the arc while he managed to take most of his shots from the mid range averaging 44% from 15 feet out. His shot is there he just needs to realize his best options and not give in to the open three point shot.
Derozan should again be a valuable asset to the Raptors, but the first season after a big contract is always the most looked at and a big question is whether he can produce in the post-season after years of disappointment. I think Demar has it in him and Demar can realize it if he works hard enough.
2. Will Jonas Valanciunas Become An All Star.
It was a coming out party for a couple of Raptors last season, one of them being center Jonas Valanciunas, who saw his greatest output offensively as well as on the glass averaging close to 13 points and 12 boards a game. He battled injuries and lack of touches to have a very productive season for the Raptors, he gave them a solid 1-2 punch with defensive specialist Bismack Biyombo captaining the second unit.
His pick and roll offense was a key set with Kyle lowry last year, and his post game got more and more consistent in the mid range elbow area being able to knock down open shots and not use the pump fake to try to bait his opponent. If Jonas had not gotten hurt or if he would have gotten more touches in the Raptors offense who knows how good he would have gotten. The growth and the maturity grew with Jonas, while also thriving in a league that is getting more and more used to having smaller centers who can knock down 20 footers and even hit some threes.
the ability of Jonas to go from utility center to All-Star will heavily depend on his patience to make his old school game work in a game where more pick and pop is being used. His post game is getting better but still needs work, his footwork needs work and he needs to be able to do more than just a shoulder to your chest running hook. The pick and roll with Lowry was his best weapon, at times it was seldom used but when it did work it gave the Raptors two very lethal options. Have a big switch to Lowry and he would use his quickness to get into the lane, have a guard switch to jonas and it would be an easy matchup that Valanciunas would easily take advantage of.
If Jonas can continue to get better and keep in the work ethic; the Raptors realize the talent of JV and give him better touches as well as looks at the basket he should be able to flourish and be a consideration for the Eastern Conference team down in New Orleans next year.
3. Will This Be Norman Powell’s Coming Out Party
The other Raptor who had a eye-opening year was rookie Norman Powell. He fit in right away with the club, giving them athleticism and stingy defense at the 3 that 4 year player Terrence Ross struggled to do. He was originally a slashing forward kind of reminiscent of the Joey Graham years, but Powell had more hunger and want to make this team permanently after spending time in the D-League down in Mississauga for the Raptors 905.
He showed how valuable a development team can be for a young player like Powell. He led the team in points, steals and minutes, and showed he was ready for the primetime. The Raptors agreed, calling him up and after eventually putting him in the starting lineup. Powell was a key piece for the Raptors and they contributed better with Powell on the court than off, according to Basketball Reference
Powell had a rough playoffs but for him it was all about experience, being able to see what the big time was like with a team that went so far and achieved so much for such little history. If another dominating summer league from Powell showed anything, is that he is ready to hit the NBA full-time and it is only a matter of patience and growth.
The Raptors saw their team grow and go farther than they ever saw any former incarnation of the team go, and despite losing to the future champ Cavs in a series they had no chance off, they still took two games from the champs. The Raptors are looking like they will repeat as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, The Cavs are a juggernaut and it will take a miracle on ice for the Raps to beat them. But this is about showing that they can again make it to the East Finals and presumably face off against the Cavs, and who knows maybe miracles do happen on the court.